Swedish Embassy Breaking Menstrual Health Barriers

“MENSTRUATION is a girls issue, why should i care?” said Tafadzwa a Grade 6 pupil with Avondale Primary School. ” I would rather not talk  or discuss about it,” he says.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

This is the kind of attitude young girls experiencing menstruation for the first time and in school go through. At times, the treatment can be worse for young girls of school going age as they have to endure long hours of bullying , jeering and insults at the hands of their male counterparts.

The situation even gets worse when a girl spots blood in the absence of a sanitary pad. She instantly becomes becomes a punching bag as boys of all ages make a beehive singing and chanting derogatory hymns. Most women can relate to this experience and testify that being poor can turn out  to be a curse during menstrual periods.

Recently, Swedish Embassy In Zimbabwe took a radical approach to break this ignorance and arrogance around menstrual health. The move is set to remove those blinkers society has on periods. Through a campaign dubbed  ‘Menstrual Health Wall’ which encompasses  posters of champions identified for menstrual health holding a sanitary pad with menstrual discharge, the Swedish Embassy says it is determined to change the narrative around menstrual health break the barriers.

Among these posters are media personalities as well as a church pastor. Even elders walking by and driving by get their heads turned towards the posters. Guardians, maids, garden boys with school kids pass by this ‘wall to destigmatize menstrual hygiene.’ There is an atmosphere of mixed feelings from those passing by, be it the elders or school pupils. To some, exhibiting such images in public is taboo and unheard of.  It is against African ‘culture’ to speak out loud about menstrual health they say.

However, others progressing towards better health for all especially the young girls and elderly women laud this provocative initiative.

Apostle Pride Sibiya has been championing menstrual health for a while now. He says he has a wife going through menstruation and three girls whom he teaches about menstruation.

I am Apostle Pride Sibiya of Grace Ministries. I am involved in this campaign for menstrual health as a man. As a man I am a friend, and husband to a beautiful wife who happens to be going through the same process and actually needs the same help and same support in terms of menstrual health.

“I’m also father to three gentle ladies and all of them I talk to about this issue. It is important for us men about this issue of our women folk concerning this thing,” he says.

Apostle Sibiya added that menstrual health is not an issue to ignore.

“It’s not something that we should shun talking about but it’s something that we thank God for. Menstruation itself is a picture of productivity, or fruitfulness and progression of the human race. So we are grateful to God. This is why I support menstrual health,” he says.

He feels that as culture is dynamic so should be the erosion of stigma surrounding menstrual health. “Stigma is all over and basically it’s deeply rooted within our African culture. But culture is not static but it’s dynamic.

“So with the passage of time, we are expecting that with all these teachings and campaigns, people’s mindsets are changed. People are also becoming dynamic and they are also becoming the core for menstrual health,” Apostle Sibiya says.

He encourages men to support females in menstrual health, “Varume ngavamire nemadzimai nevanasikana vavo. Ndimi vacho mainzi mudhara achauya. Matouya so. Fambai nebasa,” he said. Translated to English he says, “It’s about time men support their wives and children. You are the ones whom people were waiting for. You have come now so let’s walk the talk.”

According to Population Services International (PSI) Zimbabwe, in their pilot campaign of this initiative, after talking to 50 girls in urban and rural areas, they observed that girls hardly have information prior having the first period.

“This campaign has gone viral and from what we learnt, we found that most girls will be shocked to these changes and that they won’t be having enough information on the changes happening within them,” said a PSI official who was standing in for the the PSI Country Director, Staci Leushner.

Swedish Embassy In Zimbabwe Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Programs Officer Memory Mutsaka said they hoped the wallpaper of posters would ignite conversations around the subjected.

“What we have put up on the wall is an unprecedented. It’s a new thing and we are hoping what we have put up on the wall will create a lot of discussion. Open up a lot of conversation. I know the debate has already started on social media. Menstruation is not a taboo. It’s not a shame. More than half the population have their periods religiously every month. So we need to talk about it now,” she said

.

Cathrine Murumewangu a pupil at Domboramwari High School in Epworth who was the Acting Swedish Embassy Head of Mission Asa Pehrson  on the day of International Day of the Girl Child bemoaned the lack of information on menstruation among girls.

“We don’t have adequate information about menstrual health. And right now it is usually happening around 11 years. Your mom cannot tell you about those things of starting menstruation. Like me I started at the age of 11. I didn’t have enough information of what was happening to me. I didn’t even know what it was. How to do it. How to handle myself.  So it was a challenge for myself.

“This campaign is very very important for the girls being given the platform to speak our minds on the problems we face. Girls are too shy to say these things in front of men and you always say gathering in your groups that Im feeling this and that but today I want you all to tell your challenges in front of everyone so that the males can hear us on what our problems are,” she said.

Bindura University of Science and Technology SayWhat president Tanaka Bukitsani says as boys they are usually sidelined on menstrual issues.

“About menstrual health, I feel we as young boys we need more information on the issue. It seems as if we are being neglected or we are not given the chance of understanding and knowing the issue better. You will find that we are very sensitive to the issue,” he notes.

He adds that menstruation is a topic boys are shy and we are not even comfortable to talk about it with girls.

“Sometimes we even use it against the girls. I think that should change because it is something which is natural and it’s not a choice. It’s something which just comes so we should change how we treat girls on issues pertaining menstrual health,” Tanaka says.

Menstrual Health Expert Mandy Tembo felt the campaign being long overdue.

“I love this program and its overdue. I always say that menstruation is a bloody serious matter and affects not only women but men as well because it’s a community issue. The fact that we are starting to talk about it, the fact that Aberdeen is filled with pictures of pads and people talking about the importance of menstruation is exciting.

“We gonna ride this menstrual momentum and make sure that menstruation is normalized because it’s something that is normal,” she says.

In trying to break this silence, issues of stigma, acceptance of the issue among families, communities, and peers there might still be hurdles given the laggard adoption of important issues.

A tried and tested way to destigmatize sensitive issues as menstrual health in any society is education, confidence in one’s self, sharing information with other sexes, peers, community, society, the nation and the world at large.

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