No Taboo periods: It’s Time to Break the Silence and Commit to Sustainable Change

Blog • 29 May 2024

World Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated annually on May 28, is far more than just a date on the calendar. It is a day dedicated to advocacy, awareness, and action for better understanding and management of menstrual hygiene. In Africa, where taboos around menstruation and the lack of adequate infrastructure persist, this day is crucial for breaking the silence and supporting advocacy actions aimed at better access to basic sanitary infrastructure and menstrual products, with the goal of reducing gender inequalities.

By Roxane Fian, Sanitation Program Officer

Menstruation is a normal biological process that affects half of the world’s population at some point in their lives. It is a fundamental element of health and well-being for women and girls. On average, a woman spends 2,280 days of her life menstruating (AFD, May 2022), but due to taboos and myths surrounding this issue, many girls and women in Africa are stigmatized and marginalized.

Access to information is crucial for breaking the silence and fighting against this stigmatization. Yet, according to UNICEF, only two out of five schools worldwide (39%) provide education on menstrual health. This situation perpetuates taboos, contributing to the lack of information on how to manage menstruation adequately and healthily. Beyond access to information, women and girls often face problems accessing dignified and quality sanitation infrastructure, water, and menstrual products.

To contribute to advocacy and capacity building of populations on optimal menstrual period management, Speak Up Africa launched the « No Taboo Periods » campaign in 2015. This initiative aims to improve knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding menstrual hygiene. Through this campaign, Speak Up Africa has strengthened the capacities of over 12,000 people in the peri-urban area of Dakar, including community health actors and leaders of community-based organizations.

In 2020, Speak Up Africa extended its impact with the initiative « Menstrual Hygiene Management: From Taboo to Economic Power » in collaboration with La Francophonie avec Elles and Kitambaa. This project has strengthened the capacities of women in Sandiara on menstrual hygiene management and provided them with income-generating activities through the sale of low-cost reusable menstrual pads.

The campaign had such an impact in the Sandiara community that even men actively participated, buying washable sanitary pads for their families. – Project Beneficiaries

 This campaign has not only improved menstrual hygiene but also contributed to the economic empowerment of women, demonstrating that breaking taboos around menstruation can lead to positive social and economic transformations.

Today, in a context marked by climate change and health crises, it is more crucial than ever to adopt an integrated health-sanitation approach to ensure that inclusive policies addressing the specific needs of women and girls exist, that adequate sanitation infrastructures are built in public places, including schools, offices, and markets, and that access to menstrual products is democratized.

World Menstrual Hygiene Day is an opportunity for everyone to recognize the importance of access to information and resources necessary for a healthy and dignified management of menstruation. By breaking the taboos around menstruation and improving access to adequate hygiene infrastructures and products through the implementation of inclusive sanitation policies, we can transform the lives of millions of girls and women in Africa. It is time to break the silence and make menstrual hygiene a priority for a healthier and more equitable future.

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