By Nkiru Nwagbo.
In most parts of Igbo land and even beyond, menstruation by women and adult females are seen as taboo and spiritually unclean body activity.
It is believed in Igbo land that menstruating adult females carry some form of spiritual curses and effect to the detriment of the manly status of men and title men in the area.
To this end, it is forbidden for a menstruating woman to prepare food for her husband or even enter her husband’s private room as according to tradition, it weakens the spiritual aura of a man and adversely affects that which he is revered for.
Similarly, the Igbo society sees a menstruating woman as unclean, both spiritually and physically hence there is that momentary stigma that is attached to them by tradition and culture.
This also explains why most men in the days of old marry more than one wife in other to have an alternative when the other woman is menstruating.
Despite civilization and advent of Christianity, that ancient belief of a menstruating woman being unclean, dirty and indecent has remained and women have come to live with it.
It is against this backdrop that UNICEF in collaboration with Emory University (USA) and Canadian Government Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DAFTD) undertook a research in 14 countries on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).
Here in Nigeria, (MHM) in schools research project was carried out in 2015 in four selected schools each in Anambra, Katsina and Osun States. The report of the research was finalized and the findings and recommendations from the research indicated significant challenges experienced by girls and women both at school and in communities. These findings and recommendations were disseminated at national and sub-national level to relevant stakeholders.
In this 2018 global MHM Day, Anambra schools that benefited from the program include Community Secondary School Akwukwu, in Idemili South LGA, Technical School Otolo in Nnewi North, Akubuezem Community Secondary School Nnewi North as well as Ichi Community Secondary School Nnewi and Anglican Girls Secondary school Ichi. It also includes community school Nnobi, and Nnokwa in Idemili South LGA.
The year 2018 Global MHM has its theme as “No more Limit’’ to GMHS aimed at creating awareness on the need for effective hygiene living among menstruating women in Anambra State and beyond.
According to the World Bank Menstrual Hygiene Specialists and Consultant for UNICEF Mr. Daniel Ilegbu and Lillian Oyama, the programme was to commemorate the 2018 Menstrual Hygiene Day that is globally celebrated. It seeks to break the discrimination and other unruly treatments against women during menstruation and make them have great confidence during menstruation which, according to them, is the dignity and pride of every woman.
They called on men folk to support every girl child in managing menstruation and respect them.
In her overview during the occasion, the UNICEF focal person for Anambra state government Dr. Mrs. Rose Amasiana listed some of the challenges faced by menstruating girls and young women to include “lack of sanitary protection materials leading to embarrassment and stress due to leakage; smell and teasing; lack of private facilities and services at school to manage menstruation; fear of using protection in case others discover menstrual blood; inability to fulfill spiritual obligation in some places of worship, as menstruating girls and women are excluded from certain designated areas in the church/mosque and handling objects of worship’ and not to allow bath during menstruation.
She observed that poor menstrual hygiene causes health issues including reproductive tract infections and may be at greater risk of infection during menstruation as the cervix is open for the blood to flow. Certain practices are more likely to increase the risk of infection such as reusing disposable pads,
using dirty or damp cloths or inserting pads into the vagina.
According to her, measures to combat these challenges include ensuring all round education on MHM in schools and empowering girls and boys alike; access to affordable and hygienic menstrual products in schools; ensuring available and sustained water and sanitation in schools for all pupils and students; breaking down taboos and saying no to negative attitude of cultures placed on menstruation; provision of functional segregated toilets with running water, soap and mirror for girls.
In all, in order to ensure that this programme is carried out to its logical conclusion, it has been suggested that MHM education should be part of teacher training and school curriculum and the provision of information, education and communication (IEC) materials.
Also, it is being canvassed that there should be the inauguration and mainstreaming of Health/MHM clubs in schools for the promotion of hygiene education in school programmes for boys and girls and also partnering with the private sector to supply disposable sanitary pads to girls in schools.