By Alfred Koroma
The UN resident Coordinator, Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi has commended the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Fatima Bio and the Government of Sierra Leone (GOSL) for providing transformative leadership in advancing the menstrual health of women and girls in the country.
The UN resident Coordinator also commended the Government for its sustained commitment to ensuring that no one is left behind in the country’s development trajectory by implementing programmes targeting reproductive education, health, and rights.
Dr. Ahonsi was speaking at the launch of the 2022 Free Sanitary Pad Distribution Campaign.
While speaking, Ahonsi recalled the story of a pubescent girl named Daniella from Jui, Western Rural Area who on one morning disclosed to her older brother her fear of going to school when she discovered her menstruation has started while preparing to go to school that morning.
Daniella’s brother found her clutched at her pillow and sobbing at a time they were supposed to be already starting their 10-minute walk to school together.
Ahonsi said the girl who was experiencing menstruation for the first time became afraid of leaving her room to face the world with the change happening in her body because nobody had prepared her for that day, hitting lack of reproductive health education as one of the many barriers for many young girls across Sierra Leone.
The start of menstruation typically means a loss of days in school. The inherent culture of silence around menstruation also bars girls from consulting others about this change, including reaching out to more knowledgeable adults. The memories of seeing other menstruating girls being mocked and shamed, especially by male colleagues, further push many girls to stay away from school during this time, says UN Resident Coordinator, noting that overcoming these barriers requires political, corporate, and public sector leadership.
“Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030,” is the theme of this year’s World Menstrual Hygiene Day. Referencing this year’s theme, Ahonsi emphasizes the need to build a world where no girl is without safety supplies and easy access to menstrual products by 2030.
“It is also about raising awareness of the inability of many girls to afford the menstrual supplies needed to manage health and hygiene with dignity, which coupled with cultural taboos, often limits their participation in daily activities including attending school. Furthermore, stigma and myths related to menstruation often reinforce discriminatory practices,” he said.
In Africa, Puberty, a stage where every healthy girl usually starts menstruation is considered as an entry to adulthood often resulting to child marriage, Ahonsi said, adding that platforms such as the commemoration of Menstrual Hygiene Day provide an opportunity for stakeholders to interrogate the interconnectedness of the vulnerabilities that women and girls face require multi-sectoral solutions.
He said Government has a key role in setting regulations for menstrual materials, taxation considerations, and determining the impact of policy proposals such as free sanitary pads in schools, further saying that investments in menstrual hygiene, from both public and private sectors, provide the opportunity to take effective menstrual hygiene solutions to scale.
He assured UN continued support to women and girls’ multi-dimensional needs through ongoing programmes that seek to improve sexual and reproductive health, access to appropriate water, sanitation, and hygiene as well as access to education.