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MPs call for menstrual health management strategy

Published on: 04/10/2019

IRC Uganda and the Ministry of Education and Sports recently hosted a stakeholders' breakfast meeting to discuss action for improving Menstrual Health Management 

Members of Parliament have expressed their commitment to support Menstrual Health Management (MHM) around the country. This was at the MHM Breakfast meeting organised by the Ministry of Education and Sports Gender Unit on 6th September 2019. The meeting was organised to reflect on recommendations that emerged from a May 2019 MHM learning visit to Kenya.

Addressing the meeting, Koboko District Woman MP, Margaret Baba Diri said: "We are here to work with you and a strategic plan should be developed. We ask the Ministry of Education to start the process of developing an MHM policy and the rest of us will follow suit. We members of the Parliamentary WASH Forum will ensure that we spread this message further and beyond."

She said that the MPs would advocate for MHM through their established Uganda Parliamentary WASH Forum. The forum would also support the Parliamentary committee of Health and the parliamentary committee of gender to promote the issue of MHM to be considered by government.

Kole District Woman MP, Judith Alyek called for special focus on the girls in poor disadvantaged communities who cannot afford sanitary pads. "We have been looking at provision of pads to girls as a very big challenge in this country. People have even proposed that MPs' pay should be cut to buy sanitary pads. Now this should be a signal for MPs to ensure inclusion of MHM in the national budget," Alyek said.

Kamuli Municipality MP, Rehema Watongola emphasised the need for reliable water supply to make menstruation more manageable. "There is need for water supply, so the ministry of water is key. Parliamentarians are going to advocate for water at school and at community," she said. Wetongola extended an invitation to all MHM partners to visit parliament and make a case for menstruation. "Let us organise one meeting at the Parliament conference hall and we attract more MPs on the education committee, gender, finance, infrastructure and the human rights committees. We need to bring UWOPA on board. The most favourable day is Friday and we shall serve you tea," she said, rousing a thunderous hand-clap. UWOPA is the Uganda Women Parliamentarian's Association.

The Parliamentarians further agreed that indeed it is possible to provide school-going girls with free sanitary towels and vowed to continue pushing for it. Hon Baba Diri said: "It is good that Ugandans went to Kenya and saw that it is possible to provide free sanitary towels to girls in schools. Hopefully by end of tenth parliament we shall have something." They recommended the use of reusable sanitary pads which are more affordable for all girls and women. They also called for the identification of community level MHM champions to keep the message going. "The girls who need sanitary pads are coming from community level. We need community level champions. We should continue discussing at policy level but also need to recruit people to champion and implement at community level," Hon Alyek recommended.

Other participants at the meeting added to the recommendations of the MPs, as summarised below:

Ms Santa challenged MPs saying: "MPs are here with us and that shows they are serious about the matter. The MPs should have come with the male counterparts because we need to reach out to them too."
Isela Barlow from Irise: "Many champions have been identified and deployed in different communities. Irise alone has created over 52 male champions at different levels e.g in Buwenge and Butagaya and soroti. We need continuous empowerment and capacity building for all the champions. We need to facilitate them on what to do."

Samuel Kiiza: "Delivery of MHM is not just about pads. There are other components, knowledge attitude and practice being key among them. There is need to increase access to gender and socially inclusive WASH facilities. As we are pitching to supply more pads in school, we need to look at the other facilities required for MHM."

Martha Naigaga appealed to the MPs to increase funding to the WASH sector. "Most of the wash matters are not a matter of choice, people must have facilities. There is need to sit together and track all aspects of WASH and SDGs." On the aspect of sanitation facilities especially on highways, Naigaga informed the meeting that the MWE has embarked on construction of highway sanitation facilities. "The initiative is new and the Ministry of Water needs support. When allocating resources, MPs should also think about sanitation on highways," she said.

Other recommendations
Coordination: There are several coordination platforms at district and sub county level. There's need for MHM actors to tap into those platforms and take the discussion to decentralised administrative structures. There is need to map actors to know who is doing what and where?

Comprehensive and consistent messaging: There is need to streamline the kind of MHM knowledge that actors give to the children. Some emphasise safe days while others emphasise only pads. Additionally, there is a broad range of religions, cultures and values in different parts of the country. These create different practices and approaches. There is need to ensure that the girls get appropriate and acceptable products within their religious and cultural settings. There is manual on MHM provided by the ministry of education and stakeholders should be encouraged to use it.

Quality of reusable pads: It is important to handle them hygienically so that they don't spread diseased instead.

Emergency pads in schools: The Ministry of Education should declare sanitary pads as an essential item in schools, just like essential drugs were declared by Ministry of Health. Emergency pads should be a priority when planning for schools capitation grant. The senior woman should have emergency sanitary pads. Teachers should be continuously sensitised on the matter of MHM.

MHM Waste disposal and management: Thanks to the interventions by the different NGOs and partners, there is observable change in schools e.g incinerators and toilets have been constructed. But there is need to sensitise the schools and communities on how to use these facilities.

IRC Uganda Country Director, Jane Nabunnya Mulumba hailed the Ministry of Education Gender Unit for effective mobilisation of MHM supporters and called for sustained interest in the matter. She appealed to all actors to document and share their experiences in order to inspire many more. "We need to bring together all our experiences in order to make a strong case to the policy makers," Nabunnya said. "We need higher level champions for policy and action. The First Lady can easily be MHM lead champion owing to her status as first lady and minister or education," she added.

Research and Policy analyst in the MWE Rosette Nanyanzi, thanked the institutions supporting MHM in the country and for sticking together for many years. She particularly thanked Plan International for developing the MHM guide which all partners are using in the field. She also thanked Hon Jackie Amongin who moved the first motion in Parliament which gave momentum to the MHM advocacy efforts. Other actors who have supported the MHM cause include Afripads who are reaching out to many girls with reusable pads and Trailblazers who are mentoring girls and preventing early pregnancies.

In her closing remarks, Hon Baba Diri called upon all individual organisations to take back applicable lessons from the meeting. "We need to increasingly make MHM normal and not a burden for girls," she said. "We all have something to do. MPs are committed. The WASH forum is ready to work and mobilise more members to act. We are ready to work hand in hand to develop and promote the MHM policy we shall not resist it. We need to reach every school and every village and every woman."

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