Nigeria Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS(NINERELA+) through an in-school activity, reached 147 in-school adolescent girls of government secondary Jibi, FCT- Abuja with a behavioural change communication programme to share the knowledge around menstruation and menstrual hygiene management through Menstrual Hygiene Day, an annual awareness day which happened on the 28th of May 2019 to end period poverty. Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is an advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls. The Day aims to break the silence around menstruation that results in millions of women and girls having to hide, miss school and work, and be ostracised from their families.
The activity was meant to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management. The key objective of the activity was to raise awareness, break the silence, and change negative social norms around menstruation.
This day was initiated by the German-based Non-Governmental Organization, WASH United in 2014 and aims to benefit women and girls worldwide. The 28th was selected to acknowledge the 28 days is the average length of the menstrual cycle. Menstrual hygiene is fundamental to the dignity and wellbeing of women and girls and an important part of basic hygiene, sanitation and reproductive health services for which every woman and girl has a right. However, menstruation is too often seen as a taboo, with many negative cultural attitudes associated with it, including the idea that menstruating women and girls are ‘contaminated’, ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’. With respect to the global goals regarding the celebration of menstrual hygiene day, NINERELA+ Nigeria has been supporting adolescent girls through faith leaders. It was reported that poor menstrual hygiene in schools is caused by a lack of education on the issue, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure which undermines the educational opportunities, health and overall social status of women and girls. As a result, thousands of women and girls are kept from reaching their full potential. NINERELA+ joined other advocates worldwide to ensure that the Menstrual Hygiene Day will help to break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential. It was noted that much more action is needed to change negative social norms and practices, to catalyse progress on MH education, and to ensure everyone has access to products. Age-appropriate social and behavioural change communication is crucial to address inequity in sanitary dignity. The issue of women and girls being able to manage their menstrual cycle with dignity is a human rights issue. Part of restoring this dignity is to break the stigma that exists around menstruation by ending the silence, through education, advocacy and awareness campaigns. Girls who can access a choice of reliable menstrual products, have knowledge about their own bodies and are free from shame are more able to pursue the lives they choose.
In order to sustain this initiative, an adolescent girls’ club, the Sisters in Health and Empowerment club (SHE’s Club) was introduced where the selected students serve as advocates of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of young girls in the school. Through this activity, it was revealed that female students don’t have adequate facilities to wash themselves during their menstruation cycle. Some of the girls are using improvised materials ranging from rags to old clothes to manage menstruation and missing school during their periods. This monthly pattern of missing out on education has devastating long term effects not only in terms of educational development but also on the psyche of young women.
There was also a replication of this key activity in other INERELA+ Nigeria supported states like Kaduna, Benue, Ondo and Enugu states which saw a total of 3261 people being reached.