GOBABIS – In a collective effort to draw increased attention on menstrual health and hygiene management, government and the United Nations hosted the very first national commemoration of Menstrual Health and Hygiene Day for Namibia.
Hosted under the theme “Empowering women and girls through good and safe menstrual health and hygiene”, the event set the tone for the development of policies and programmes to address the social, economic and cultural barriers to safe and dignified menstrual health and hygiene management.
“This day is an important platform to remind stakeholders that all our girls require dignified, safe and private facilities and products for them to remain clean, confident and secure enough to continue with daily activities during menstruation,” said Juliet Kavetuna, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services.
“When girls do not have adequate sanitation facilities, when they face challenges in getting sanitary pads and when they are surrounded by discriminatory social taboos about menstruation, they will continue to be deprived of opportunities to participate freely and comfortably in school, play or other social activities,” she stated.
Women and girls who live in poverty do not always have access to sanitary products and are forced to make use of unsanitary and ineffective materials, which can introduce diseases and infections.
Only 17 percent of female in rural areas have access to improved sanitation facilities and this deprives women of the privacy and infrastructure required for healthy, safe and hygienic menstrual management.
A WASH Needs Assessment Report of 2014 by the Society for Family Health found that only 29 percent of schools have flush toilets, 28 percent use toilet facilities that were not separated from those of the boys and 51 percent make no provision for girls in relation to menstruation – that is handwashing stations with soap and water and bins in toilets for disposal of pads.
“Girls become shy and stressed during this period and many therefore opt to stay at home if they do not have the right facilities, products and information to manage their menstruation in a dignified manner. That’s why it is difficult for us to sit back and not pay attention when the lives of young girls are at stake,” stated Sanet Steenkamp, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture.
Within some cultural groups in Namibia, menstruation remains a taboo, often associated with uncleanliness and shame and within these cultural settings, women and girls are forced into seclusion during menstruation and parents do not feel comfortable sharing information with their growing children, it was stated.
“Talking about menstruation should not make people, feel uneasy, or embarrassed. The Menstrual Health and Hygiene Day therefore helps to break the silence that shrouds the topic and helps to build awareness that this is a normal, major stage of puberty in girls,” said Rachel Odede, UNICEF representative in Namibia.
Currently, government is making efforts to address the gaps in menstrual health and hygiene as one of the strategies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for health, access to education, gender equality, access to water and sanitation and to ensure female participation in the workforce for sustainable economic growth.