Overcoming stigma around menstrual health and hygiene

When Bridget experienced her first menstruation at school, it was an upsetting and confusing experience. A UNICEF programme in Malawi aims to ensure adolescent girls are fully prepared.

Bridget attends school in the Chikwawa District in southern Malawi. She was 15 years old when she experienced her first menstruation, while in a classroom of over 150 students, including about 100 boys.

She had not been informed about menstruation and so was unprepared and didn’t know what to do. Caught off guard, Bridget did not want to move from the classroom floor. When some of the boys saw bloodstains on her school uniform, they jeered at her. The jeers not only disrupted Bridget’s learning but also left her low on self-esteem. She was forced to be out of school for a week.

Such experiences are not uncommon in regions where awareness around menstruation, hygiene and women’s health is low. In any given school year, Malawian girls are absent on average 12 to 26 days due to having their period. Apart from a lack of access to menstrual hygiene materials, such as sanitary pads, girls in Malawi face the challenge of inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities in schools. 

To combat stigma around menstruation, UNICEF established a programme to support the Ministry of Education in equipping schools with sanitation facilities and menstrual supplies, enabling girls to improve menstrual health and hygiene. With support from Re&Act – the independent charity that manages the donations raised from the Children’s Walk – and UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein, UNICEF Malawi supports 50 primary schools in creating awareness for menstrual health and to help reduce stigma and discrimination. In addition, teachers and mothers’ groups were trained in menstrual health and hygiene so that they can educate the students and support girls once they are starting to menstruate.

Today, Bridget no longer worries about her menstrual health. The support she and hundreds of other girls received has provided the tools and the knowledge needed to manage their monthly cycle without interrupting their education.

“I don’t view menses as a curse anymore,” says Bridget, “but a process that is part of life. My schoolmates and I freely talk about it and support each other, so everyone can learn in peace.”

Through the UNICEF Menstrual Health and Hygiene Awareness programme, about 6,000 young women in Malawi receive education around menstrual health, along with sanitary supplies. It is one example of the many programmes that Roche supports through Re&Act – the independent charity that manages the donations raised from the Children’s Walk.

Top image: Students in a classroom in Malawi.
© UNICEF/UN0641444/Malawi

Bottom image: A girl with a reusable sanitary pad to improve menstrual health and hygiene management.
© UNICEF/UN0641433/Malawi

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