Over the past decade, evidence has accrued worldwide about the many barriers girls face to safe, hygienic and dignified menstruation.
Challenges include inadequate health education on menstruation and puberty; lack of social support from teachers and peers to manage menstruation in school, and from families; and insufficient access to water, sanitation, hygiene materials, and disposal facilities.
To address the needs of girls in a holistic manner, the Government of Rwanda and partners including Swiss Development Corporation and Imbuto Foundation have taken positive strides towards ending menstrual health challenges.
These include the establishment of Girls Rooms at the school level; and the waiving of Tax on menstrual health products, establishing Safeguard Young People Programme which allows the youth to join forces on Menstrual Health education, alongside Adolescent and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights policy and strategies in place.
Rwandan youths who are behind the implementation of the programmes say that the government and stakeholders need to further mainstream menstrual health services, education and access to information so as to improve the Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management (MHM).
The call was made this Monday May 23, 2022 during the launch of a two day MHM workshop, which also comes ahead of the 2022 Menstrual Hygiene Day due on May 28 under the theme: “Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030″.
In order to move towards making menstrual health a normal fact, some female youths say that the existing efforts (especially policies) have not been able to benefit many young girls and women for many reasons including the issues of prices of menstrual pad, lack of access to sanitary pads.
“It is easy to find free or cheap condoms in a kiosk in Kigali and anywhere in the country but very hard to find free menstrual pads. We want the pads to be equally free and accessible as condoms,” said Marie Ange Raissa Uwamungu, one of the women youth leaders during the workshop.
Uwamungu said that despite the scrapping of VAT on menstrual pads in 2018, the prices of pads remain high (with prices increased from Rwf800 to Rwf1200 for quality pads) thus a need to scrap all taxes levied on the pads.
“Imagine if a city lady like me has to struggle to spare that amount every month, you can imagine the trauma and side effects on a village girl who has no income,” Uwamungu said adding that this has to be accompanied with a full package of MHM information and support for instance need of underwear.
Among the disabled youths, the challenges are deeper according to Ange Umutoni, a member of Troupe de Personnes handicapées Twuzuzanye (TPT) – an organization that focuses on advocacy for the disabled.
Umutoni says that the fact that most disabled children are not sent to school, not exposed to information due to their disability, many are prone to victimization and living with stigma because most disabled cannot communicate, or understand what is going on in their lives.
“We want ownership to be trickled down to all levels. What we see is that menstrual policies and strategies have not been owned at family, school, or community level but seen as a government or development partner’s issue,” Umutoni said.
A Rapid assessment on the status of Menstrual Health Management in Rwanda conducted Liliane Umwiza, a project associate at Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) indicated that a pack of single-use sanitary pads costs between Rfw700 (71 US cents) and Rwf1000 ($1), roughly a day’s wage for many women, putting it out of reach for many.
It also indicated that in refugee’s camp, parents prioritize food over such MHM needs and this often leads to girls feeling neglected and pushes some to resort to sex in exchange for commodities.
The research shows that cheap reusable sanitary pads manufacturers have suspended activities due to lack of official regulations on standards.
Umwiza said that research was not extensive but it gives the country an opportunity to do quantitative or qualitative research to address the underlying aspects, especially persistent issues of high prices of sanitary pads, menstruation being considered a taboo, and non involvement of men in supporting women in their periods.
UNFPA Representative, Kwabena Asante-Ntiamoah who opened the workshop said that the outcomes will amplify the voices of women and girls on the challenges they face related to menstruation and raise awareness in order to change negative social norms around Menstrual Health, and engages decision-makers to increase the political priority and catalyze action for Menstrual Health at all levels.
The workshop is also expected to come up with a draft policy brief on Menstrual Health and Universal HealthCare and an advocacy action plan to be tabled to the government.