MENSTRUAL HYGIENE MANAGEMENTEnabling Girls to Take Control Over their Bodies and Lives
What Is MHM and Why Should We Care?
Simply put, MHM stands for Menstrual Hygiene Management, which is a way to empower girls and young women in developing countries. It’s hard for people in the western world to imagine that something as elemental and natural as a woman’s menstrual cycle can mean the end of a girl’s education, however that’s exactly what happens in countries like Burkina Faso.
Menstruation is a taboo topic in Burkina Faso. Girls are not informed, educated or prepared for this normal stage in life until it happens to them which leads to traumatic experiences for girls. This lack of understanding and preparation can lead to embarrassing situations for girls causing alienation, isolation and shame– which can become so great, it can end a girl’s education. At best, many days of school are missed each month, making it hard for girls to excel in classes, play sports, or even just feel at ease.
This problem can be completely overcome through education and the raising of awareness about this issue. Throughout Burkina Faso taboos and harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGMC) are being overturned. A new day has dawned and women’s empowerment is not only a central theme, it is a guiding force behind these important positive changes.
BARKA now integrates MHM into its hygiene education program at local schools. Thankfully, we are working with two phenomenal UNICEF-trained, local female teachers in Fada’s two biggest high schools to create a massive awareness campaign for girls, boys, parents and teachers. The first phase of this work was completed in June 2017 with the sensitization of over 2000 girls, boys and teachers.
What Do Toilets Have to Do with Girls’ Education?
This is not only an issue of education. The problem of MHM is also one of resources, or the lack thereof. Conditions are so bad that some schools in Burkina don’t have classrooms and have to meet under trees. Most don’t even have toilets or access to water. Such a lack of resources to properly care for students’ needs makes things especially difficult for girls.
That’s why BARKA is focused on “WASH-in-Schools“- programs that ensure schools have access to water, improved sanitation and hygiene education. MHM has become an important part of BARKA’s WASH-in-Schools programs.
Girls need a safe, clean and secure space to take care of their menstrual needs. As a part of our MHM program, BARKA is working with the Parent Teacher Association of Lycee Communal de Fada to look into the creation of a girls-only douche (it would be Burkina’s first) where menstruating girls would have access to privacy, clean water, soap, clean towels, and even some basic over-the-counter types of medication (administered by the school) to alleviate symptoms that often make it impossible for girls to concentrate in class.
“As a woman, I want to help young girls in my country to be informed and through that awareness to have a good education.”
BARKA’s MHM Project Leaders
Martine Nazotin is an English teacher at Lycee Diaba Lompo, Fada’s largest high school where she created the “Club of Awakening Girls”. Martine was selected in 2017 by the Burkina Ministry of Education to go on a special assignment to sensitize students about MHM in 40 villages surrounding Fada. She wants to give girls coming of age a better experience than she had herself when she began her menstrual cycle.
Hear Martine in her own words: watch a 2-minute interview at the beginning of BARKA’s MHM project:
Salimata Weogo Zalle is a Math teacher at Lycee Communal de Fada. Empowering girls is a “duty” for Madame Zalle because she feels that women in Africa have been oppressed and have not had the same chances as boys to become educated. She wants to help even the scales.
Both of these inspiring role models have been trained about MHM by UNICEF and have received training in women’s reproductive health issues and sensitizing girls and mothers against female genital mutilation and cutting (FGMC or excision as it’s known in French) which is also a component of BARKA’s program.
The Future: A Social Enterprise to Create Sanitary Pads
BARKA is currently looking into the feasibility of creating a women-operated business to use locally grown organic cotton to create and distrubute re-usable hygienic sanitary pads. We are speaking with thought leaders inside Burkina Faso and internationally to better understand how we can realize this dream. The goal is to work with local female teachers and dynamic high school girls to create a sustainable social enterprise that would earn revenue by selling a product that would also raise awareness. This would be a revolutionary way to empower women and girls while simultaneously breaking the taboo topic of menstruation in Burkina Faso.
“Maybe the project won’t reach all girls, but it will reach some who will then support other girls in their lives. By supporting this project, you will support some girls directly and others indirectly”.
From March – May 2017, BARKA’s MHM Project sensitized 2000 direct beneficiaries.
In 2019, BARKA sensitized an additional 4500 high school girls and constructed two MHM Cabins, the first ones in the eastern region of the country.