Breaking taboos around menstruation

Adolescent girls, teachers and parents - are learning about menstrual hygiene management and becoming more comfortable to speak about the normally tabooed topic.

By Suzanne Tchutchoua Kameni
Breaking taboos around menstruation
UNICEF Niger/Islamane A.

08 October 2019

Persistent norms, stigma, misconceptions and taboos around menstruation, continue to lead to exclusion and discrimination of women and girls in Niger. It is not uncommon to hear that ‘if a woman in periods of menstruation touches the seeds, the harvest will not be abundant, a woman in periods of menstruation should not braid her sister, otherwise she will lose her hair; menstruation is a women's affair and a man should not talk about it’.

For many adolescent girls living in the country, menstruation is a big problem — a source of stress, shame, embarrassment, confusion and fear. Many girls do not attend school during their monthly cycles. Frequently, they fall behind in their studies or stop going altogether. Young girls in Niger build their knowledge on menstrual hygiene from their own experience.

With support from UK Government (DFID), through the ‘Accelerating Sanitation, Hygiene and Water for All (ASWA II)’ programme, UNICEF is implementing a Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) pilot programme to break the silence and bring change in beliefs and attitudes towards menstruation. It aims to support girls across the country to overcome the barriers that prohibit them from managing menstruation with dignity.

UNICEF kicked off a series of community- and school-focused MHM training of trainers’ workshops for technical WASH staffs from different ministries at national and local levels (WASH, Health, Education) and NGO partners.

HM
UNICEF Niger/Islamane A.

“Parents felt too embarrassed to talk about menstruation with their daughter, they feel shame talking about it. Even me, I did not allow my husband to talk about menstrual hygiene to our daughter,” says one of the participants.

Throughout the training, participants highlighted the lack of discussion on this important topic. They went through the MHM information guide and tools to equip them with the skills they need to openly speak about and engage conversation around MHM. They are expected to carry out further training sessions upon returning home. Over the next months, adolescent girls from more than 1,000 primary school are expected to be reached through a cascade training. 

At school level, UNICEF provided girls with hygiene kits and aims to improve WASH and MHM facilities in schools. Selected adolescent girls were also trained to sensitize and engage discussion with their peers. In Maradi, Zinder and Tahoua regions, more than 3,400 people were trained on MHM in 2018, helping to break taboos that negatively affect girls’ school attendance. This included 500 members of school management committees and mothers’ associations and 2,000 girls and 968 boys in 120 schools.

Book
UNICEF Niger

UNICEF also aims to involve municipalities and local authorities as well as religious and community leaders and parents in the discussions on MHM. Series of communication initiatives were implemented to further raise awareness on MHM. This includes the organization of public debates on radio, the airing of audio sketches and the facilitation of dialogues at community level.  

“Given communities’ discomfort and hesitation to discuss these topics, many adolescent girls in Niger have limited knowledge and understanding about menstruation. Now we know what to do from this training and how to react.” Says Tidjani Sadi Issoufou, one of the participants. 

“I am very committed to implement MHM training and passing on all that we have learned from this training. People must know the health and hygiene implications of menstruation” he concludes.

Breaking taboos around menstruation
UNICEF Niger/Islamane A.