The subject of menstrual health is an extremely important one but it is one that has not been thoroughly conveyed, especially to young girls.
People involved in teaching girls about menstruation usually shy away from delving too much into the issue and often, they just scratch the surface. The focus is usually on letting them know that they will one day start bleeding and that would mean they are now able to conceive.
They are told not to panic when this happens and to inform a female elder with whom they live with.
There is more to menstruation than just knowing what it means and what will happen to one’s body. A visit to Muzarabani for a dignity kit donation to women in the area by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, helped illuminate the challenges faced by women in rural areas when they start menstruating.
The dignity kits were secured through United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (UN CERF) funding in response to the national flood disaster earlier in the year.
The donated dignity kits comprised sanitary pads, bar of soap, towel, underwear, comb, petroleum jelly, toothbrush and toothpaste, zambia wrap and a bag in which the items were placed.
Women in rural areas in particular face challenges during menstruation. With water for domestic use being accessed in areas that are far away from one’s location, women cannot afford to bath more than once a day, which may mean neglecting their personal hygiene, which is key to menstrual health.
Muzarabani resident Chiedza Mugoni said bathing daily was the least of worries for women in the area. “Living in the rural areas is very demanding. A rural woman has more chores to do in comparison with women in the city. These chores demand more time and commitment. By the time we have done our chores, we will be exhausted and we won’t have the energy to bath.
“We have to travel a long distance to fetch water — so to use it all on bathing is a waste and will mean we will have to travel multiple times a day to make sure we have water,” she said.
During menstrual periods, the woman’s reproductive system is a more prone to infections. This is why personal hygiene is absolutely essential. When a woman has her period, she loses blood and iron, resulting in her feeling more tired than usual.
A bath can help with that as it soothes and refreshes; a warm bath is preferable.
Yet, women living in rural areas cannot easily do so because they need to fetch water and firewood to be able to take a warm bath.
Clara Musemwa, 19, who received a dignity kit, was happy with UNFPA’s donation. “I feel humbled by what UNFPA has done for us as women in Muzarabani. We didn’t expect this,” she said.
“The occurrence of floods in this area resulted in the destruction of a lot of properties and possessions. The floods had much impact on us as women because we lost certain things that we need for hygiene purposes, especially during menstruation.”
Ms. Musemwa said women in rural areas commonly use of pieces of cloth when they have their periods. “We always make use of cloths instead of pads and this usually results in the formation of bruises on our sensitive areas.
“These cloths are rarely washed and are sometimes washed with dirty water minus the soap.” These practices place women in rural areas at high risk of health complications.
Miriam Saizi, 20, explained how everyday chores affect them as women. “As women living in rural areas, there are things we have to do on a daily basis that cause damage to us,” she said.
“We walk for very long distances to fetch water and firewood and these are difficult tasks to perform, especially when we [have] our periods.
“Most women suffer from period pain [during menstruation] and in most homesteads, young women are supposed to be the ones carrying out these chores. This becomes a great challenge to women in rural areas,” she said.
Culture also has an impact on the menstrual health of women in the rural areas. Women who are menstruating may be regarded as impure and are castigated. This results in women and girls being restricted in mobility and behaviour.
Girls who go to school often have to skip school until they are through with their period, because they have no access to proper sanitary wear.
Letwin Chikwasha, a junior councillor at Dambakurima High School, said girls have a difficult time at school when they have their periods.
“If a girl spoils her uniform while at school she is made to feel very uncomfortable,” said Ms. Chikwasha. “She becomes a laughing stock and it is usually boys who are the first to notice and start laughing.”
As a result, some girls have a tendency to skip school for a week each month, which has implications for their schooling. A disregard of menstrual health can also result in health complications and can lead to infertility or worse, death.
Increased vulnerability to reproductive tract infections is linked to incidence of cervical cancer, HIV, infertility and ectopic pregnancies.
Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Nyasha Chikwinya, said that when interventions were made to assist the people of Muzarabani after the floods occurred, women’s needs were not taken into account.
“Foodstuffs and blankets were brought here to cater for the flood victims but nobody [took] into consideration women’s needs,” she said.
Serious interventions have to be made to equip women in rural areas with economic and social conditions to manage menstruation sanitation, she added.
By Tatenda Charamba (Features writer, The Herald)