Menstrual kits to 1500 Mozambican schoolgirls

by HELP CODE ITALIA ONLUS
Menstrual kits to 1500 Mozambican schoolgirls

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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Since our latest update, the spread of COVD-19 in Mozambique has rapidly increased, reaching almost 14,000 total cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The sharpest increase occurred at the same time of a relaxation of emergency measures, that the government introduced in order to avoid a severe economic and social crisis that is already affecting many families, as most of the country is facing a “stressed” or “crisis” Food Insecurity Phase.

However, this new phase in the COVID-19 crisis management in Mozambique has not resulted in relevant changes in the education sector: primary and secondary schools remain closed, except for final year students. This means that the wellbeing and access to rights of over 10 million Mozambican children in school age is at risk due to:

  1. falling into poverty or increasing poverty severity;
  2. reduced learning opportunities;
  3. barriers to survival and good health
  4. increased risks of violence, abuse and exploitation of children in precarious situations (UNICEF 2020).[1]

“The longer schools are closed, the greater the loss of learning time and the greater the chances that children, particularly girls, will not return to the classroom when schools reopen” (UNICEF 2020).

Notwithstanding some relevant progresses in key education indicators over the last two decades, such as access to school, the indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are amplifying the fragilities of the sector:

  • There are still almost two million primary-school-age children that are out of school;
  • More than one third of students drop out before Grade 3 and less than half complete primary, well below the average in Sub-Saharan African countries;
  • Due to several factors including high levels of teacher absenteeism, children only have 74 out of the 190 expected school days in the year;[2]
  • While 94 percent of girls in Mozambique enroll in primary school, more than half drop out by the fifth grade, only 11 percent continue on to study at the secondary level, and just 1 percent continue on to college;
  • 33.2 per cent of girls in urban areas and 44.4 per cent in rural areas get pregnant before the age of 18.1;
  • Among children who finish primary school, nearly two-thirds leave the system without basic reading, writing, and math skills[3];
  • 74 per cent of children live without electricity, and only 2 per cent have access to the internet;
  • Prior to the outbreak, 10 per cent of children or just over one million children aged 0−12, were orphans.

Helpcode Italia’s core activities in Mozambique include supporting schools in rural areas and vulnerable families through a multidimensional approach that aims at enhancing their productive capacity while raising awareness on the importance of sending kids to school.

Drop-out rates will peak once the school reopens, as children who have been out of formal schooling for almost a year have been diverting their time to productive and care activities to support family’s needs.

The severe economic crisis that is unfolding in Mozambique is expected to severely impact on children and to expose more girls to the risks of violence, early pregnancies and marriages, transactional sex – as coping strategies to escape poverty.

In this context, providing girls with menstrual kits is part of a more comprehensive strategy that Helpcode adopts in Mozambique and it’s considered critical to promote dialogue on sexual and reproductive health rights.

We thank you for your support.

 

[1] https://www.unicef.org/mozambique/media/2531/file/The%20Impacts%20of%20COVID-19%20on%20Children%20in%20Mozambique%20.pdf

[2] https://www.globalpartnership.org/where-we-work/mozambique

[3] https://www.usaid.gov/mozambique/education#:~:text=The%20Ministry%20of%20Education%20reports,of%20males%20(60%20percent).

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HELP CODE ITALIA ONLUS

Location: Genova - Italy
Website:
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Twitter: @helpcodeitalia
Project Leader:
Alessandro Grassini
Genova, Italy
$2,126 raised of $15,000 goal
 
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