Thursday, 18 February 2016


The past couple of weeks have been really exciting and thrilling. I have moved from the comfort of my home to live with another family in Tamale (Northern Region of Ghana) after I signed up for the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme run by International Service Ghana and I have been placed at the Women Support and Activist Group (WOSAG) with other volunteers from Ghana and the U.K. It has been a nice experience leaving home and staying with a family I did not know before and I can say that, it has gone very well for me. My first team workshop with the WOSAG volunteering team was on menstruation and menstrual hygiene management in the developing world. At first, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about blood, vaginas and periods… The whole thing seemed very foreign to me and, to be honest, a little disgusting as well. I didn’t really see why I should care about all this, since, as a man, Mother Nature exempted me from all this!  However, when doing some research about menstruation management in the developing world, and in Ghana especially, I realised how crucial it was to speak out about menstruation. Here are some of the things I found out about that I think everybody should be made aware of.

Why menstrual hygiene matters

When women and adolescent girls use safe sanitary products to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, use soap and water for washing the body as required, and have access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used materials, that is menstrual hygiene management.  The average amount of blood lost during menstruation is 30-40ml – although some women have lighter or heavier flows than others.

Globally, approximately 52% of the female population (26% of the total population) is of reproductive age. Most of these women and girls will menstruate each month for between two and seven days. To manage menstruation hygienically and with dignity, it is essential that women and girls have access to water and sanitation. They need somewhere private to change sanitary cloths or pads; clean water and soap for washing their hands, bodies and reusable cloths; and facilities for safely disposing of used materials or a clean place to dry them if reusable. It is also essential for both men and women to have a greater awareness of good menstrual hygiene practices. With WOSAG, we will make the most of our Women's Day sensitisation programmes in Banvim and Kanvili, two communities of Tamale, to raise awareness about the need for menstrual hygiene and the use of proper sanitary products during menstruation.

Blandine and Caleb leading a workshop about menstrual hygiene management with WOSAG.

Menstrual hygiene is a neglected issue and at the household level, women and adolescent girls generally have little control over whether they have access to a private latrine or money to spend on sanitary materials. The lack of physical and economic access to hygienic and safe products and facilities means that many women and girls around the globe use unsanitary materials such as old rags, dried leaves, grass, ash, sand, newspaper or socks.

Even when gender inequalities are addressed, deeply embedded power relations and cultural taboos persist. Most people, and men in particular, find menstrual hygiene a difficult subject to talk about. As a result of these issues, water, sanitation and hygiene programmes often fail to address the needs of women and girls.

Due to inadequate information and awareness, young girls often grow up with limited knowledge about menstruation. This may be because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing the issue with them. Besides, adult women may themselves not be aware of the biological factors or good hygienic practices, and instead pass on cultural taboos and restrictions to be observed to the next generation. For example, it is estimated that, some 48% of girls in Iran believe that menstruation is a disease. Men and boys typically know even less, but it is important for them to understand menstrual hygiene so they can support their wives, daughters, mothers, students, employees and peers.

Taboos surrounding menstruation exclude women and girls from many aspects of social and cultural life as well as menstrual hygiene services. In Ghana such taboos include not being able to touch water points or prepare food for older males - although women are allowed to cook for fellow females and younger males. Women can also be excluded from religious rituals and even from their own family home - menstruating females may be given a separate place to stay during their period. In Kenya also, menstruating women are not allowed to touch or milk cows for fear that the cows will get sick or die. As a result, women and girls are often denied access to water and proper sanitation when they need it most. With this being said, menstruation should be considered a normal natural occurrence and no more taboos and stigmas should be associated with it.

UNESCO estimates that, 1 in 10 African adolescent girls miss school during their menses and eventually drops out. Teachers (and male members of staff in particular) can be unaware of girls' needs, in some cases refusing to let them visit the latrine. As a result, girls have been reported to miss school during their menstrual periods or even drop out completely. In rural areas of Ghana, about 95% of girls failed to attend school during their menstrual periods. Well-designed and appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that address menstrual hygiene can make a significant difference to the schooling experience of girls.

Menstruation if not properly managed can result in health problems. The impact of poor menstrual hygiene on the psycho-social wellbeing of women and girls (e.g. stress levels, fear and embarrassment, and social exclusion during menstruation) should also be considered.

Blandine and Caleb demonstrating how tampons work to WOSAG volunteers.
Tampons remain a rare luxury in Ghana. Pads are cheaper and more readily available.  

In conclusion, a lack of adequate Menstrual Hygiene Management denies women and girls their right to education, right to health, right to engage in social activities and right to work in favourable conditions. In order to improve menstruation management for women and girls around the world, it is crucial that:
  • They have access to well-designed and appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities as well as to affordable, safe and sanitary menstruation products;
  • Taboos and stigmas no longer exist;
  • Factual Information and education about menstruation hygiene is provided in schools via health workers and doctors, via the media and at home.
Just a few days after our menstruation workshop, the newspaper The Graphic issued an article about sanitation facilites and menstruation in Ghana! 

Author: Caleb Adams

Edited by: Blandine Bénézit, Andrew Hamilton

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