By Meclina Chirwa:
Bernadette is a Standard Seven learner at Kamkodola Primary School in Lilongwe who has never used a sanitary pad because her parents cannot afford to buy for her.
“Every month, I spend seven days at home because I cannot cope with the situation while at school. I rely on pieces of cloth for my hygiene,” she says.
Bernadette believes that there are a lot of girls in similar situations. She feels some would even easily drop out of school.
“I have heard that some girls are taught how to make reusable sanitary pads; I wish we could have the same opportunity. The knowledge we would gain could empower us forever. On the other hand, the pads are expensive,” she says.
Another learner, Anileti, says even for those who can afford sanitary pads, the school does not have changing rooms.
Thus, most girls choose to stay at home during their menstruation.
“The government can do better by ensuring that every primary school in Malawi has a changing room. Education is a right; we should not be denied that right because of lack of sanitary facilities,” she says.
Jean Mikondo, a teacher at Kamkodola Primary School, says menstrual hygiene management is a major concern in many schools across the country.
At the core of the challenges is most families’ failure to afford the materials despite that they contribute significantly to women and girls’ health, well-being, mobil i ty and dignity.
“Usually, when girls are menstruating, they prefer staying at home instead of attending classes. Physical discomfort and the resulting stigma are huge factors contributing to constant absenteeism. Some girls completely drop out of school,” Mikondo says.
Now, stakeholders in the water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) sector have supported the government to improve menstrual hygiene by providing facilities and knowledge to ensure that girls are empowered in their pursuit of education goals.
Mikondo says Habitat for Humanity is helping in lessening woes girls encounter at the school by constructing changing rooms.
Apart from Habitat for Humanity, WaterAid Malawi has also been modeling inclusive and fit-for-purpose sanitation facilities, training adolescent girls to manage their menstruation in appropriate ways and working with school-based structures to build girls’ capacity in sanitation and hygiene.
They are also mainstreaming menstrual hygiene management of school Wash programmes to ensure that girls are kept in school.
WaterAid’s Coordinator for Policy and Sector Engagement, Lloyd Mtalimanja, says the organisation has constructed modern toilets in various schools in its implementing districts.
“WaterAid understands the challenges that girls face due to menstruation. So far, we have constructed toilets with menstrual hygiene management facilities in different schools in Lilongwe and Kasungu in order to maintain the well-being and dignity of girls,” Mtalimanja says.
Ministry of Education spokesperson, Lindiwe Chide, admitted that there could be lack of menstrual hygiene facilities in some schools but indicated that modern schools being constructed have changing rooms.
“We are doing something especially for the newly constructed schools but we will need to find enough resources to construct changing rooms in the old schools that do not have such facilities” she said.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that good menstrual health and management is a human right and that while it is excluded from the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it is key to achieving six of the goals.
UNFPA also highlights that menstrual health and management are now widely integrated into national education and health systems, circular and materials, in humanitarian responses and in research on product acceptability and impact.
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