CHIBWE LUMPA, Lusaka
EACH year, May 28 has been commemorated as Menstrual Hygiene Day for the last 7 years, with a main focus of raising awareness on issues surrounding menstruation. The day is observed on May 28 because menstrual cycles average 28 days in length. The theme of this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day is “Action and Investment in Menstrual Hygiene and Health.” Recently, there has been much research on the prevalence and effects of period poverty in developing countries over the years, which has brought to light the plight of the multitude of disadvantaged women and girls worldwide. However, it is quite easy for individual struggles and challenges to get lost in statistics and graphs, while losing sight of the real problem at hand. The human experience beyond the statistics is distressing and often grim. A young girl should not have to be subjected to further disadvantages on her path to attaining an education because of her menses. For many young girls and women, the onset of menstruation may lead to school absenteeism, child marriage, sexual violence and loss of dignity, which is one of the foundation of all human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UNICEF Guide to Menstrual Hygiene Materials (2019, pg. 9) highlights the fact that in low- and middle-income countries, many girls are not able to manage their menses and associated hygiene with ease and dignity. In Zambia, studies have estimated that half of the population is female and over 80 percent are within the reproductive age. This, therefore, means that menstrual hygiene management is an area that needs much closer attention, due to its ability to have cross cutting impacts on the social and economic wellbeing of citizens. However, knowledge alone cannot change the tide concerning menstrual hygiene poverty. Action needs to be taken, on both an individual and at national level.
The recent increase in public awareness in Zambia on menstrual hygiene management among donor agencies, local community organisations and the business community is highly commendable. In 2017, the Zambian government announced that it would for the first time commence the distribution of free sanitary towels to 14,000 girls from vulnerable households in 16 districts as requisites to retain them in school. Such an initiative by Government is encouraging and should be further supported by private sector players who should supplement such efforts by producing more affordable menstrual hygiene products locally. Currently, disposable sanitary towels are expensive as they are CLICK TO READ MORE