By Gloria Laker. A and Aggrey Ojok
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to threaten the livelihoods of families, meeting the menstrual hygiene needs of most girls have been relegated to the back-burner as households are confronted with the task of ensuring that they don’t go to bed hungry.
With so many competing priorities and pressing economic needs, it is not surprising that the conversation about Menstrual Health Management is almost mute. In difficult economic times such as these, many families are hard-pressed to spare the equivalent of one dollar a month to buy a pack of disposable sanitary pads for their girls, pushing many to find alternative and sometimes unhealthy ways of getting through their monthly cycles.
Interventions from charities and not-for-profit organisations come in handy during such moments and for many girls and their families, these moments bring a lot of relief.
This is what happened recently when the Pilgrim Centre for Reconciliation Uganda (PCRUG), a non- denominational organisation held a drive to distribute menstrual cups to a total of 250 vulnerable girls in Wakiso district, in Central Uganda. The menstrual cups are more economically friendly and could be just the answer to the menstrual needs of girls from families which could be facing financial constraints especially during periods of lockdown.
Bob Mayonza, the Country Director of PCRUG observes that their intervention comes in to address the needs of vulnerable girls whose menstrual health needs have been neglected as more families shift their priorities to providing food. Through its HOPE program, PCR partnered with Jjunjo Worship Centre, a local church, and community village health officials who were in strong support of the initiative to provide young girls with the reusable menstrual cups commonly known as “could you” cups.
“A lot of vulnerable Ugandan girls are being exposed to unhealthy menstrual health choices during the hard times of the pandemic,” he says.
This situation is playing out across Uganda, especially among needy or vulnerable communities. In Katulaga and Buwoya villages in Busiiro South in Wakiso district, families have to forge ways to help their daughters go through this period of time.
“In this community, a family has to make the tough decision on whether to buy a sanitary towel that costs 1 dollar or a kilogram of flour to feed the whole family,” Mayonza explains.
Before the cups are distributed, the community is first and foremost sensitized, the girls are given information to help them know their bodies and how to handle their menstrual health.
So far there has been a positive response from the community. Fathers too have been involved in the discussions and training on menstrual cups and it has been an incredible experience.
Mayonza recounts how an excited father rushed home soon after the sensitization meeting and returned with his two daughters who attended the training and received their menstrual cups. Another father had to rush out of the meeting and hopped onto a boda boda to go and fetch his two daughters to also benefit from the training and receive their cups too. Upon his return, the
man had this to say: “It’s an answered prayer. I didn’t know what to do for my girls. I have to provide food and yet resources are scarce in this COVID -19 era.”
To ensure that follow-up is effective, the team works with the village health officers who know the girls and their families. In addition, during the training, the details of each family are captured.
“My talk as a man is to encourage them that we care about their health and that we are ready to support and empower them to achieve their dreams even in areas of menstrual health because we believe that God has called us to empower others,” Mayonza adds.
What is a menstrual cup and how does it work?
A menstrual cup is a small funnel-shaped and flexible cup that a woman inserts inside her vagina to collect menstrual blood. It is a flexible product made of either rubber or silicone. The cup has to be emptied at least twice a day and must be thoroughly cleaned before it is inserted. They are more economical because they are reusable and can be used for up to ten years.
You can read more about menstrual cups here. couldyou.org
The Status of Menstrual Health Management in Uganda
A November 2020 Study shows that most girls and women in rural areas use pieces of cloth for padding while their urban counterparts use disposable pads. Even where girls use disposable pads, this usage is not consistent due to lack of money to buy the sanitary pads.
Similarly, the study documents the experiences of many girls of school-going age who say they feel embarrassed and experience trauma associated with menstruation due to shaming by male teachers and boy students.
Clearly, the gap in knowledge about menstrual health perpetuated by cultural practices that discourage male involvement in such issues oftentimes work to the detriment of the girl child.
When men like Mayonza and other fathers begin to take a keen interest in the menstrual health of girls and their daughters provides a ray of hope that perhaps some negative perceptions and cultural beliefs are slowly being dismantled and that one day girls will live in a society that allows them to embrace their bodies and all the biological changes that they go through as they grow.
Edited by Judith Atim