Menstrual kits to 1500 Mozambican schoolgirls

by HELP CODE ITALIA ONLUS
Menstrual kits to 1500 Mozambican schoolgirls

In this October update we would like to focus on the relationship existing between menstrual hygiene management training, access to menstrual care products, enhanced sexual and reproductive health knowledge, decrease in early marriages and improved access education.

More and more, in fact, we are able to see not only how these issues are related and contributing to girls’ empowerment, but also the multiplier effects of providing girls with menstrual hygiene kits.
From previous reports on this project, and from global evidence, we know that when menstrual health and hygiene needs are not addressed, girls’ mobility and personal choices are restricted, school attendance is affected, their safety is compromised, their vulnerability increases.

On the contrary, when girls have access to menstrual hygiene products, adequate facilities and sexual and reproductive health knowledge, and when social taboos around menstruation are deconstructed, the effects are far reaching and include safer access to school for girls, increased awareness (for everyone, not just for girls!) about menstruation being a normal fact of life and not a stigma, protected personal dignity, enhanced capacity to make informed choice over one’s own body.

So, those who choose to support this project are not only providing girls with a menstrual hygiene kit: they are contributing to a broader change, and this is why we are once again calling for support.

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Improving girls’ menstrual health requires both access to sanitary pads and increased knowledge and awareness – for girls, as well as for their parents and peers - with regards to sexual and reproductive health.

For the past 3 months we have realized, in partnership with UNICEF, awareness trainings on a variety of topics in 5 schools of Gorongosa District. Among these trainings, one focused on menstrual health and hygiene, and was linked to a practical activity aimed at sewing reusable sanitary pads, reaching a total of 75 girls and 25 mothers. In collaboration with the District Service for Women, Health and Welfare, Helpcode team developed a participatory methodology where mothers and girls shared their knowledge as well as doubts with regards to menstruation, thus also contributing to deconstruct myths and discriminatory social norms linked to this.

During the trainings, mothers discussed how they were taught to manage menstruation by their mothers and other women of the family when they were adolescent, and compared it to the information available nowadays, and provided suggestions and recommendations to girls with regards to personal care and hygiene, as well as on how to dress in order to feel more comfortable. One mother for example highlighted how in the past they were taught that a woman, when she is menstruating, could nor cook nor take a bath in the same facility or river as others, and discussed how these imposed limitations have been overcome nowadays, at least in most areas.

This exchange of information was complemented by a more in-depth set of information provided by the technical officer of the District Services for Women and Health; as well as by a practical workshop to produce (and properly wash) reusable sanitary pads.

The training participants were, most of all, surprised that menstruation could be the topic of a training as, particularly in rural areas, this is generally considered a “secret thing” not to be discussed in public. Some girls felt embarrassed at the beginning, but ended up actively participating in the training and planning to share the information received with their girlfriends. Mothers felt that discussing this topic in group contributes to a more open relationships with their daughters and also to understand what are girls’ main concerns.

There is indeed a pressing need to hold more trainings on this subject, and also to find a way to involve men and boys in this activity, as they can contribute to a substantial change in behaviour and in dispelling myths with regards to menstruation: but for this we need your help!

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We publish this update on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as we want to collectively reflect on the link between improving menstrual health and combating violence against women.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations; however, it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. Violence against women and girls can be physical, sexual and psychological, and includes intimate partner violence; sexual violence and harassment; human trafficking; female genital mutilation; and child marriage.

In rural Mozambique, girls’ puberty often coincides with leaving school, as parents fear that they might be at risk of sexual harassment and of engaging in relationships with boys that might not be interested or capable of providing for them (meaning, paying the bridewealth) in case they become pregnant. At the same time, when girls start menstruating they are married off by their parents, as they are deemed to be ready to start a family of their own.

There are many others correlations between needs linked to menstrual management and gender-based violence – not only in Mozambique: increased risk of sexual assault and harassment if using outside toilets at night (for example, in rural areas or in humanitarian settings such as resettlement sites) due to stigma; resorting to transactional sex to buy sanitary pads; harassment by male peers in school.

Providing girls with sanitary pads and information on menstrual hygiene management therefore means much more than addressing period poverty, as it contributes also to increase awareness on girls rights and on sexual and reproductive health. But to reach an impact, it is not only girls who need to be made more aware. In these weeks, our team in Gorongosa is busy training School Councils in 5 communities where Helpcode is building schools with the support of UNICEF and the European Union.

These trainings also include Menstrual Hygiene Management (as well as small workshops to teach how to sew reusable sanitary pads) and they are aimed at representatives of parents, teachers, students and community leaders: the idea is to try and normalize the discussion around these issues, promote a debate and engage also men and boys as critical agents of change.

So your support goes a long way: thank you!

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On Friday 28 May, Helpcode team in Gorongosa joined the District Services for Education, Youth and Technology, the District Services for Health and the director of Gorongosa Rural Hospital to celebrate, together with a group of 30 girls aged 12-17 from different primary and secondary schools, International Menstrual Hygiene Day.

This small event has been an opportunity to reflect collectively on the importance of improving information for adolescents on sexual and reproductive health, and of creating conditions in which girls can have regular access to sanitary towels – in a context where they are often forced to use cloth or even to skip school during menstruation, as we discussed in our previous reports. These issues are rarely discussed in the family, which is also why they have aroused great interest among the girls, who have proposed organising regular information meetings in schools.

Helpcode is currently busy planning such training sessions in the context of a project coordinated by UNICEF with funds from the European Union, where teachers and school councils (that includes representatives of the students) will be involved in order to develop awareness activities on menstrual hygiene and how this is linked to girls empowerment as well as to gender equality.

Stay tuned!

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After one year of closure, schools have reopened in Mozambique on March 22. It is still too early to say if the risks highlighted in our previous report have materialized, and it will take a few weeks before quantitative data on children’s school enrolment – to be compared with previous years’ – are available. It is still too early also for qualitative evidence on the impact of the emergency measures taken to contain the pandemic on school attendance, learning outcomes, children’s capacity to focus during classes, their nutritional status.

It is not too early, though, to say that girls’ rights to education, in Mozambique, are in danger, as a result of a mix of factors such as the pandemic’ consequences, multidimensional poverty, discriminatory social and traditional norms that promote early marriages – including as a coping strategy for families whose livelihoods are vulnerable.

Helpcode is promoting girls’ rights to education in many ways: by providing them with schools materials, by organizing community dialogues to increase awareness on the importance of education and on girls’ and children’s rights, by supporting the preparation of school meals – a great incentive for families to send children to school -, by enhancing families’ agricultural production capacity so that their income and livelihoods are more stable and therefore do not need to marry their daughters, by building or rehabilitating schools and latrines in areas that have been affected by natural disasters.

Menstrual health is a frequently overlooked factor: but in fact, it is as important as having school materials. We know, in fact, that puberty is a critical time for girls in Mozambique, as in many other parts of the world, as once they reach puberty, particularly in rural areas, they are often retired from school, and left waiting to be married. Providing girls with sanitary pads and with culturally-sensitive training on how to manage their period and their reproductive health can be a game-changer for thousands of girls living in rural Mozambique.

So this is a call to action: we need your support to change the rules of the game so that girls can go to school and make informed, conscious decision over their lives. Obrigada :)

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HELP CODE ITALIA ONLUS

Location: Genova - Italy
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Twitter: @helpcodeitalia
Project Leader:
Alessandro Grassini
Genova, Italy
$2,546 raised of $15,000 goal
 
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