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Thursday, 28th May 2020

Improving Menstrual Hygiene Management for Women and Girls through Education

By Katie Humphries

When people think of Madagascar, what often comes into mind is rich biodiversity, idyllic beaches, and, let’s face it, the DreamWorks movie. However, what many people don’t know is that the world’s fourth largest island has the fourth worst WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) conditions globally, with 94.0% of people lacking access to basic sanitation services (UNICEF, 2018). Women and girls are particularly affected by the widespread shortage of WASH facilities, since their human rights to safe and affordable water and sanitation to manage their period are, quite simply, not being met. 

Across the world, 500 million women and girls are unable to access adequate Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) services, and this is just as true for many girls in Madagascar. In the Anosy region, SEED has conducted comprehensive research with local partners and beneficiaries to highlight the prevalent barriers to safe and sanitary MHM for women and girls. Such barriers include water scarcities, the absence of safe spaces to manage periods, and a lack of knowledge surrounding menstruation, which is exacerbated by cultural taboos and associated feelings of shame or embarrassment. These knowledge gaps, ill-supported by typically incomprehensive sex education and limited conversations with close friends or relatives, can result in years of poor menstrual hygiene practice and further exacerbation of the existing stigmas.

SEED forefronts the experiences of women and girls in its organisational and project priorities, from building toilet blocks in schools with specific MHM facilities to teaching girl guides how to make reusable sanitary materials. However, services will remain poorly utilised if women and girls do not have a base understanding of their own menstruation and if cultural stigmas continue to be perpetuated. In order to address these challenges, SEED incorporates MHM education into projects across its WASH, schools, and community health work.

Girls taking part in Menstrual Health education in schoolIn particular, SEED’s Project Safidy team works in partnership with Madagascar’s Ministry of Education and national level stakeholders to advocate for young peoples’ rights to sexual and reproductive health education. This year, the project’s integrated rights-based sex education curriculum is being delivered in 214 high schools across the country, with topics ranging from MHM and early pregnancy to STIs and consent. This contextually-appropriate education equips young women and girls with the knowledge of how to manage their period with dignity despite having limited access to water, sanitation facilities, and sanitary products. Furthermore, Project Safidy’s rights-based approach seeks to reduce prevalent taboos around this topic, encouraging open discussion and empowering young women and girls to advocate for their rights to manage their period safely and hygienically.

At the end of the school year, Project Safidy’s surveys found that 89.7% of first-year students understood that a woman’s first menstruation is a sign that they can now become pregnant. Furthermore, 78.8% of students had engaged in discussions on sexual health topics with their friends or family. The team identified that girls were more likely than boys to participate in these discussions and to advocate with those in positions of responsibility about the sexual and reproductive health of young people in their community. These positive results demonstrate that through improving education and facilitating discussions, girls become better equipped to manage their period and feel empowered to advocate for their right to MHM education and facilities.

Girls socialising during Menstrual Health educationJust as everyone has the right to safe and affordable water and sanitation, so too does every woman and girl have the right to manage their period in a safe and hygienic environment. In SEED's 20th year, we are strengthening our commitment to water, sanitation, and hygiene rights, especially for the women and girls we serve. With safe and effective MHM outcomes for women and girls sat at the cross-section of six of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and with only 10 years left to meet these targets, SEED will continue to partner with communities, schools, ministries and other organisations to improve MHM education and services in vulnerable communities across Madagascar.