Let's talk about menstruation

Some girls call it period, some say red, and others use different names to refer to menstruation.

By Noreen Chambers
UNICEF WASH Officer, Alex addressing a crowd.
UNICEF PNG/Chambers/2019
06 June 2019

27 May 2019, Lae, Papua New Guinea - “Some girls call it period, some say red, and others use different names to refer to menstruation,” says Alex Rogaveh, UNICEF WASH Officer, to a crowd of students and parents.

“I am talking about menstruation here today because when adolescent girls and women get their periods, the way we as males relate to them makes them feel like they cannot do certain things,” he continues.

Many adults in the crowd, mostly parents of students who had gathered to support Situm Primary School in Nawaeb District, Lae, Morobe Province, observe Menstrual Hygiene Management Day, quietly nod their heads in agreement.

The crowd goes silent as they wait to hear what else Alex - a man - has to say about menstruation - a female matter.

“Where I come from in the Highlands, people would ridicule me if I stood in front of them and talked about menstruation. They would call me names for talking about women’s issues. But I want to talk about this today because, while we have mothers who know about menstruation, this information and knowledge most times is not passed onto their daughters. Fathers don’t talk about this because it is taboo. We don’t talk about this in our families.”

A group of girls listening to speeches at Situm Primary School
UNICEF PNG/Chambers/2019
A group of adolescent girls listening to Alex talk about menstruation.

“My take home message to all the men and boys here today is to show respect for our girls and women when they experience menstruation. Build proper toilets with good doors at home and provide the support they need to manage menstruation.  We need to build proper toilets in schools so that girls can remain in school during menstruation, complete their education and build a good future for themselves and their families,” Alex tells the crowd.

Curious school boys pay attention to menstruation talks.
UNICEF PNG/Chambers/2019
Even the boys were curious enough to hang around and listen to menstruation talks.

“When I was in grade 5, one of my female classmates stained her skirt in class. She was a smart student. Because she had stained herself in the classroom, our teacher told the male students to go outside while the girls cleaned up the entire classroom. That female student went home and never came back to school. If we and the teacher had been more respectful and supported her, she wouldn’t have left school. She was a very bright student, but that experience discouraged her from ever coming back to school.”

On any given day, approximately 300 million women and girls around the world menstruate. To manage menstruation safely, hygienically with confidence and dignity, they need a private space to attend to their menstruation related needs. For them, this usually will be a toilet.

UNICEF Youth Advocate, Leoshina Kariha and Situm Primary Head Girl, Priscilla Tura.
UNICEF PNG/Chambers/2019
UNICEF PNG Youth Advocate, Leoshina Kariha and Situm Primary School Head Girl, Priscilla Tura advocated for period friendly toilets.

Situm Primary School Head Girl, Priscilla Tura, voices one clear message when she briefly addresses the crowd: “On behalf of the female students, we want to have proper facilities in school that are conducive for menstrual hygiene management. That includes good toilets, water and proper ways to dispose of our pads.”

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Day, observed annually on May 28, is a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and media to promote good menstrual hygiene management for all women and girls. This is an opportunity to break the silence, raise awareness and change negative social norms around MHM.

Through generous funding provided by the European Union, UNICEF in partnership with the Government and partners including World Vision, Oxfam and Infra Tech, is supporting the implementation of a major five-year water and sanitation hygiene programme in four districts in PNG – Nawaeb in Morobe; Goroka in Eastern Highlands; Hagen Central in Western Highlands and Central Bougainville District in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

The project, expected to significantly impact the quality of life will also greatly improve the health and education outcomes for more than 70,000 people including some 40,000 children in 200 schools, 36 health facilities and 800 neighbouring communities by the time this intervention concludes in 2021.

With a rural focus, the project involves construction of improved WASH facilities, implementation of awareness campaigns, promotion of hygiene activities and capacity building that will, amongst other things, greatly support menstrual hygiene management for adolescent girls in schools and women in communities.