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Messages from Menstrual Hygiene Management Day in Uganda.

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Day 2017 was marked in Uganda on Saturday 27th May, with calls for more education about menstruation.

Even after being chief-walker at the MHM Day procession which was punctuated with bold messages about menstruation, the State Minister for Higher Education John Chrysestom Muyingo could not bring himself to speak boldly about sanitary pads.

Delivering his speech at the celebrations, Muyingo confessed that he came from a generation where menstruation was taboo. He said, "Our culture does not allow us to talk openly about those things."

But it was understandable. Mr Muyingo is not the only one still shy to speak openly about menstruation. Generally, the Ugandan public is just learning to break the silence about menstruation. The MHM Day, marked every 28th May is one of the opportunities that they get to openly discuss issues around menstruation. And so it was on Saturday 27th May 2017 that the fourth edition of the MHM Day was marked in Uganda. This year, the theme was: Education about menstruation changes everything.

The Day was marked with a procession through Kampala; exhibitions of different menstrual products; dancing, singing and open dialogue about menstruation. Organised by the Ministry of Education and Sports, the event attracted participants ranging from school children, government officials, NGO workers, private sector actors and other MHM well-wishers.

In a keynote address, the WaterAid Country Director, Eng Francis Musinguzi observed that traditions and taboos about menstruation were blocking Ugandans from realizing the full potential of females. "We need to come out and defy the taboos that block us from realizing the women's potential. Men and boys should especially stand up and speak about menstruation. We should all seek to empower girls, women and mothers. No girl should be left behind," Musinguzi appealed.

As the event progressed, Minister JC Muyingo gained boldness and made very specific appeals to actors to take the necessary action to improve MHM especially in schools. He urged actors to undertake research on how to bring down the cost of sanitary pads and make them more affordable. He also appealed to actors to develop and disseminate age-appropriate messages and ensure that they reach the girls in rural areas. Muyingo further reiterated his commitment to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is installed in schools – washrooms, changing rooms, incinerators.

On President Museveni's campaign promise to provide free sanitary pads to school children, Muyingo reaffirmed that the NRM government was still committed to that promise. "Adolescent girls in schools should access sanitary towels. This was an NRM promise. We are still committed to this pledge and we are working around the clock to ensure that it is met," he reassured participants.

In the ensuing dialogue, panelists highlighted the key challenges that still hamper progress in the promotion of effective MHM. Key among the challenges raised were:

  • Expensive MHM facilities, the construction of which may not be affordable by all schools.
  • Low creativity levels especially when it comes to affordable sanitary materials
  • Inadequate knowledge about menstruation
  • Policies and strategies that do not explicitly mention and address MHM
  • Delayed enrolment of girls in school, which means they take long to learn about menstruation and perpetuates cultural and community based myths and taboos.
  • Bullying, teasing and laughing by the boys at school. This calls for increased sensitization of the boys and men. Indeed, sometimes it is the male teachers who bully and insult the girls at school
  • Irresponsible men in communities, who perpetuate the thinking that when girls start menstruation they are old enough for marriage and sex
  • Limited support from parents, especially fathers who cannot talk to their daughters and those who fail to provide the necessary materials
  • Silence by the adolescent girls who fear to talk openly about the bodily changes they experience as they grow
  • Failure to make a business case for MHM
  • Society is still largely patriarchal putting boys ahead of girls