Today, Ethiopia joins the rest of the world in commemorating the Menstrual Hygiene Day under the theme, “Periods in Pandemic – it is time to take action!”
The objective this year is to emphasize the importance of continuing menstrual hygiene awareness and support for women and girls during COVID-19, especially for those living in poverty, the internally displaced, refugees, and those in quarantine and transit centers.
A pandemic such as COVID-19 doesn’t stop activities to support the basic menstrual hygiene needs of women and girls, including those who are on the frontlines of the pandemic.
It is imperative that girls and women living in poverty, the internally displaced, refugees, and those in quarantine and transit centers are provided with menstrual hygiene kits. This is part of preserving their dignity amidst the difficult conditions they are living in.
“Given the multiple challenges that women and adolescent girls face, it is evident that promoting menstrual hygiene management is not only a health and sanitation matter, it is also a crucial step towards safeguarding the dignity, integrity and overall life opportunities for women and girls,” says Minister of Health Dr. Lia Tadesse.
Since 2016, the Federal Ministry of Health, together with government and civil society partners, has been implementing a comprehensive menstrual hygiene and health programme in the country. The programme includes raising awareness in schools and surrounding communities to reduce stigma around menstruation, providing appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, increasing access to sanitary products, and making available safe spaces in schools to reduce absenteeism for girls during menstruation.
Following the award of the 2019 CNN Hero of the Year to Freweini Mebrahtu for her work on reducing the cultural stigma attached to menstruation in parts of rural Ethiopia, a Menstrual Hygiene and Health taskforce was formed under the leadership of Her Excellency the President Sahle-Work Zewde to spearhead the menstrual hygiene programme.
While many people still doubt the seriousness of the issue, for countless girls and women, sanitary pads are an unaffordable ‘luxury’. Among the thousands of girls with whom UNICEF has worked, most explained that they were forced to resort to unsanitary and sometimes unsafe methods to meet their needs.
A 2020 UNICEF survey shows that 18 per cent of young girls miss school during menstruation. Nearly half cited pain as the reason and a quarter cited fear of leaking. The report also shows that girls have difficulties talking to their teachers about menstruation challenges at school. Cultural taboos that forbid girls from certain activities when menstruating – such as fetching water, engaging in religious activities, cooking – need to be addressed.
“UNICEF is working with the government and other partners to ensure that women and girls are not disadvantaged by something as natural as their periods,” says UNICEF Representative Adele Khodr. “We are advocating with partners in the OneWASH national programme to mainstream menstrual hygiene, particularly in schools and health centers.”
UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Health to establish national standards for reusable and disposable pads and inclusion of menstrual hygiene and health in the health extension programme. Menstrual hygiene and disability are now included in the design and construction of water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities in schools and health centers.
With funding from the governments of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Canada, awareness campaigns have reached 106,500 school children and 13 million people.
The Government and UNICEF are calling for an end to stigma and shame and for more support for vulnerable women and girls in the form of menstrual pads, especially during COVID-19. This is our duty to ensure the dignity of those caught up in difficult conditions.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).