Busting Menstrual Health and Hygiene Myths in Sudan

Changing social stigmas surrounding menstruation in Sudan

Khamisa Mohamed Rajab
End Menstruation Stigma Illustration
Chris Magura
28 May 2021

For many girls in Sudan, discriminatory social norms, gender inequality, cultural taboos, poverty, and lack of basic services like toilets and sanitary products can all cause their menstrual health and hygiene needs to go unmet.

UNICEF realizes the struggle many girls and young women face during monthly menstruation and works with local authorities including religious leaders, development agencies and the private sector to raise the voices for promotion of menstrual health and hygiene particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, where economic disruptions have led to women and girls losing access to hygiene products.

A one-week orientation workshop was launched in East Darfur bringing together government, NGOs, individuals, and the private sector, civil society as well as the media to promote good menstrual health and hygiene management, and break stigmas that exist around young women and girls experiencing their menstrual cycle. Menstrual Hygiene Day this year is celebrated with the global theme of 'We need to step up action and investment in menstrual health and hygiene now!

The lively discussion that took place in El Daien locality shed light on practices and norms around menstruation and menstrual hygiene, while dispelling myths and addressing taboos. It also underscored the importance of ensuring an adequate supply of water, sanitation, hand washing facilities, privacy for changing and hygienic disposal system, and the removal of tariffs on sanitary pads to ensure affordability for all women and girls.

For many girls, these sessions are the first opportunity they’ve ever had to openly discuss their periods, ask questions, and realize that it’s a normal part of their adolescence and lives.

Menstruation is the most important aspect to reproductive health for women and girls, but in some societies it is still considered a taboo topic. This continued reluctance to openly talk about menstruation denies awareness about menstrual health and hygiene as an emergency public health priority.

The orientation workshop also focused on current solutions, demonstrating making of low-cost, safe, affordable,  re-usable hygienic menstrual hygiene products by stitching cloth pads out of organic cotton fabrics to immensely benefit the community to be self-sufficient in the future, and practical training on how to prevent COVID-19 during periods. Information was shared so that girls and women are better able to manage their periods with confidence and dignity.

It was interesting to hear about menstrual health and hygiene from men, having these conversations openly among themselves, helps open doors for other men to start. One man participating in the workshop said, “I will teach both my daughter and my wife what I learned here today.”

Idris Adam, after the workshop said he realized that as a father he should learn how to make re-usable sanitary pads. “My daughter would use old rags and dry leaves, but now I know that is unhygienic and will make her stop.”

“I learned new things during the orientation, this is very helpful, I come across many girls who have been unable to continue their educations due to limitations on them by their parents  with respect to menstruation,  I will be proactive in engaging young girls on raising their confidence level to talk about menstruation and making them comfortable to practice good menstrual hygiene practices.

Ali Younus a member of the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Management

For the participants, simple knowledge about menstrual health and hygiene has gradually changed their attitude about menstruation, after the awareness activity they have gained more confidence. The ability to look after one’s personal hygiene/health during menstrual period shouldn’t be a privilege, it’s a basic human right.

UNICEF, generously supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) is working with the State Ministry of Health and Social Development to support to support adolescent girls by providing better sanitation facilities and hygiene education in schools so that every girl is supported and empowered to learn and reach her full potential.