Lusaka, Friday (June 7, 2024)

Zambia NGO WASH Forum is concerned that some girls do not have necessities such as pants to wear during menstruation, thereby absconding from school.

BORDA Zambia Projects Manager Eddy Chikuta, a Forum Member, said the challenge has been highlighted by the Menstrual Hygiene Guideline, developed by the Ministry of Education in 2016, indicating that a girl child misses school 36 days in a year to deal with their menses.

Mr Chikuta said this in Lusaka recently as Zambia joined the globe in commemorating World Menstrual Hygiene Day held under the theme, “Together for a Period-Friendly World”. 

“We take it for granted every time, that pants are readily available and menstrual hygiene products such as pads. However, in most schools, some girls do not even have pants to wear to help in managing menstruation hygiene effectively. This has been ably highlighted by the Menstrual Hygiene Guideline that was developed by the Ministry of Education in 2016 where we see that a girl child misses school for 36 days in a year to deal with their menses,” he said. 

Mr Chikuta said said most girls stay home during menses because of inadequate facilities, lack of privacy and stigma from boys that laugh at them.

“Of these, over 80% of the girls that miss school do so because they have to stay home to deal with their menstrual aspects. This has been associated with a challenge because at school, there are no adequate facilities, privacy is not there and more so the discrimination and stigma that sits at the core of this situation. Even boys laugh at the girls when on menses,” he said. 

The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Expert said safe disposal of menstrual hygiene management waste is a challenge in Zambia because of taboos surrounding menstruation such as witchcraft. 

“Most of these sanitary pads are disposed of in pit latrines and toilets. Many barriers were discussed by various partners. Knowledge and beliefs on menstruation are still very strong. Even some practitioners are still shy to talk about menstruation. Limited disposal options continue to be a challenge. There are a lot of taboos around the disposal of sanitary pads because we cannot openly dispose of pads in public. When we were doing a study in one of the schools, there is always a taboo that if you throw a used pad in public, then it will be used for witchcraft and you will not have children,” he said. 

Mr Chikuta said poor and non-existent WASH services have been cited as one of the barriers to menstrual hygiene management.

“For a girl child to address menstrual hygiene management adequately, we need water and sanitation facilities that are secure and inclusive,” he said. 

He said access to affordable and hygienic sanitation materials continues to be a challenge because most materials are expensive on the market as menstruation has to be done every month.

“Social safety nets in the communities and the schools do not allow for open discussion of menstrual hygiene management issues thereby presenting a challenge. There has been a call that this is an issue and we need to address these barriers as Government and partners to synchronise efforts to look at them in a much more holistic way. As stakeholders,  we described the status of Menstrual Hygiene Management in Zambia especially schools as deplorable, unhygienic, lagging, bad, not inclusive, heartbreaking, average and improving,” he said. 

Mr Chikuta said for Zambia to get to the year 2030 which is six years down the line, there is need to do a lot of things to change the narrative for a Period Friendly World.

“We need to rethink our programming, policies, and commitments at national and international level to tackle some of the issues. These were reflected in three aspects. The infrastructure. Issues around platforms for WASH Clubs in Schools and the advocacy aspects. On infrastructure, we are talking about issues to do with sanitation facilities, menstrual hygiene products disposal options, water, and sanitary kits. Most of the time, we have thought that we can separate water from menstrual hygiene management but we have seen that you cannot deal with menses effectively if you do not have water. The type of sanitation facilities we are building in schools, are they menstrual hygiene management friendly? There are still challenges on infrastructure regarding financing but also the designs that we are putting forward to address menstrual hygiene management,” he said. 

He called for strong voices around Menstrual Hygiene Management to change the narrative for Zambia to be where it wants to be.

This is contained in a statement issued by Zambia NGO WASH Forum National Coordinator Bubala Muyovwe-Mumba. 

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