By Susan Onyango, IFRC
In recent years, the issue of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in post-conflict and post-disaster settings has increasingly drawn the attention of the international humanitarian community. Despite this, menstrual hygiene continues to be overlooked and is still not effectively or comprehensively addressed in emergencies.
“Many women suffer embarrassment, infections and even risk of violence if they have to wait until dark to find a private place to change their feminine hygiene products,” says Chelsea Giles Hansen, a water and sanitation delegate with the IFRC.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has received a grant from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund to trial menstrual hygiene management kits in three countries in eastern Africa. The kits are designed to enable safe and hygienic management of the menstrual cycle through the provision of disposable or reusable sanitary pads, care and disposal of pads, and practical information. The kits will be complemented by increased and improved training for National Societies, and participatory hygiene promotion tools relating to menstrual hygiene.
“As part of this project, the IFRC will conduct market surveys to determine the potential for local procurement and the pre-positioning of culturally appropriate menstrual hygiene management kits,” says Finn-Jarle Rode, the IFRC’s regional representative.
The IFRC will improve and increase training, advocacy and awareness so that MHM becomes a critical component of all water, sanitation and hygiene interventions during an emergency response. This means ensuring that supplies of feminine hygiene products are not only distributed, but also accompanied by information and demonstrations on how to use them.
“The last time we got sanitary towels, women were not educated on their use and disposal,” says Marie, a 29-year-old participant in a pilot project that was implemented in Burundi earlier this year. “A child in the camp ate a used pad. This session is very important.”
Lessons learnt from the Burundi project will be applied in the scale-up of the current project. Preliminary results indicate a 10 per cent increase in knowledge of the normal duration of the menstrual cycle, and a 15 per cent increase in the number of women who realize they may be pregnant if their cycle does not occur on a monthly basis.
“I can now go to school confidently,” says Mariam, another 15-year-old participant. “I no longer have to worry about my periods.”
“The long-term cost is not a burden anymore,” says another. “I don’t have to keep cutting up my kitenge [a garment similar to a sarong used to carry children].”
At least 6,000 women are expected to benefit from the project which will run over the next 18 months with support from National Societies in Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway, as well from AFRI Pads (U) Ltd.