“Girls cannot take decision-making positions in society if they continue to drop out of school due to a lack of education and basic facilities for managing a natural process.”

Catherine is the Chairperson of a mothers’ group in Chikwawa District, southern Malawi, and she is talking about the importance of ensuring menstrual health and hygiene. Having their period shall not get in girls’ way of receiving an education.

Unfortunately, this does still happen, mainly due to stigma, lack of awareness and lack of supplies. 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 around menstruation. 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.

Thanks to the programme, around 5,600 school and community members have increased their skills in Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) awareness. People like Catherine are central to the programme’s success.

Together with other mothers, she goes door to door in the villages of her district, speaking to girls and urging parents to not keep menstruating girls at home.

Catherine meets with girls on a regular basis to give them tips on how to maintain hygiene both in school and at home. And it doesn’t stop at the girls – she also convenes boys groups, both for a pep talk on their own body changes, and to provide education on women's health and to become male champions against the stigma around menstruation.

It’s already working.

“Boys no longer jeer at the girls when they notice bloodstains,” says Catherine. “They have become supportive and trusted allies in keeping girls in school.”

Through the UNICEF Menstrual Health and Hygiene Awareness programme, about 5,600 school and community members have been trained to help reduce stigma and keep young women in school. 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: Mother group member conducting a menstrual health and hygiene management support session.
© UNICEF/UN0641390/Malawi

Bottom image: A teacher who has been trained to support girls with menstrual health and hygiene management in Malawi.
© UNICEF/UN0641438/Malawi

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