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UNICEF: menstrual health, hygiene needs still unmet in Africa

By Alfred Koroma

The United Nations children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that menstrual health and hygiene management is still out of reach, particularly among the poorest, ethnic groups, refugees, and people with disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Stigma, poverty, and lack of access to basic services such as toilets and water are the factors causing menstrual health and hygiene needs to go unmet, which UNICEF says increases women and girls’ risk of infections.

UNICEF has made the warning in its Menstrual Health and hygiene Management Fact Sheet published 26 May 2022 ahead of the Menstrual Hygiene Day.

The study focuses on four indicators related to menstrual health and associated WASH service.

According to the organization, menstrual health and hygiene management is slowly but increasingly being recognized and monitored. By 2020, 42 countries had nationally representative data on at least one of four indicators, of which 31 had information on at least three indicators.

Latest analysis reveal  that limitations on participation in school, work, and social activities while menstruating varied by geographical, socio-economic, and individual characteristics. Among those held back, stigma and lack of access to menstrual hygiene products are also common factors identified, and that many girls are also unaware of periods before their first cycle, which can affect their perception and understanding of menstruation.

 “Menstrual health and hygiene management, when available to all, can help dismantle barriers and support adolescent girls to become healthy, educated, and empowered women,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF Director of Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) and Climate, Environment, Energy, and Disaster Risk Reduction (CEED). “Yet, until recently, little attention has been paid to defining, monitoring, and investing in menstrual health.”

Nearly half of the countries with unmet menstrual health and hygiene are in sub-Saharan Africa while No high-income countries had national data on any of the indicators.

According to UNICEF, 15 percent of girls in Burkina Faso; 20 percent in Ivory Coast; and 23 percent in Nigeria missed school in the past 12 months because of their period, and more than half of women in Bangladesh and more than two-thirds in Nepal said they did not participate in everyday activities while menstruating. In Chad and the Central African Republic, one in three said they were missing out.

Of the two countries with national data, only 32 per cent and 66 per cent of girls were aware of menstruation before their first period in Bangladesh and Egypt, respectively. In Egypt, 74 per cent of girls who were unaware felt shocked, afraid or cried during the first occurrence.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, 69 per cent felt scared, UNICEF says, adding that the use of menstrual materials and the availability of a private place to wash and change is high in most of the reporting countries.

The report says the use of menstrual materials ranged from 81 per cent to universal in most countries. However, 6 per cent of women used paper in Niger; 12 per cent used only underwear in Burkina Faso; 11 per cent used nothing in Ethiopia whiles  the availability of a private place to wash and change ranged from 80 to 99 per cent in most countries with data.  However, the report says in Niger, Tunisia, and Burkina Faso, only 52 per cent, 56 per cent, and 74 per cent had such spaces, respectively.

Ethnic groups and those living in emergency settings face even greater challenges, with less access to menstrual products and basic facilities and more limitations on participation than the rest of the population.

The data which is collected from 42 countries from women and girls aged 15-49 indicates that in 12 countries with data, at least 1 in 10 women and girls in rural areas lacked a private place to wash and change during their last period.

“Investment in menstrual hygiene management will benefit girls today, the women they will become tomorrow, and the next generation,” Naylor added.

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