MENSTRUAL, SEXUAL, AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTHEnabling Girls to Take Control Over their Bodies and Lives
What Is MSRH and Why Should We Care?
Simply put, MSRH stands for Menstrual, Sexual and Reproductive Health, which encompasses Menstrual Health and Hygiene, as well as issues of Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C), Child, Early, Forced Marriage (CEFM), Unwanted Pregnancy, HIV prevention, all of which are prevalent in Burkina Faso. BARKA also places importance on sensitizing Burkinabè women about their own rights as they pertain to these MSRH issues. Put it all together and it provides a way to empower girls and women in developing countries and worldwide.
This work began out of BARKA’s WASH-in-Schools programming to ensure all schools in the commune of Fada have access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene education. Through our hygiene programs, and by speaking with female teachers, student leaders and their parents, we recognized a need to help girls in school address the management of their own menstrual hygiene and to increase awareness on this subject. 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 Burkina Faso, where only 1% of women graduate complete their education and finish high school.
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.
The gendered environment surrounding menstruation, the culture of silence surrounding it, harmful myths, are all embedded in a patriarchal and discriminatory society which only serve to amplify the challenges women and girls already face. One of BARKA’s approach to alleviate this problem is by shining a flashlight on it. We are raising awareness and educating not only school girls, but also boys, teachers, and parents, all through education programs design to break the silence around the stigma of “Period Poverty”.
Our program began on International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2017 through the Girl Fund fundraiser with Global Giving. Training sessions are led by two UNICEF-trained, local female teachers in Fada’s two biggest high schools. The first phase of this work was completed in June 2017 with the sensitization of over 2000 girls, boys and teachers in 2 schools. Between 2018-19, we sensitized an additional 4500 girls in 5 other schools and built the eastern region’s first two “MHM Cabins” at Diaba Lompo and Lycee Communal de Fada high schools.
What Do Toilets Have to Do with Girls’ Education?
This is not only an issue of education. The problem of Burkina girls being able to manage their own menstrual hygiene 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 has become a pioneer of Menstrual Health Management (MHM) Cabins– private spaces where girls can access privacy, security, and discretion to safely take care of their own menstrual hygiene. Clean water and soap are made available by “MHM Clubs” in these cabins (soap and water are not available in other student latrines). Girls can bathe, wash clothes, and access analgesics through MHM Club advisors.
MHM Cabins make it possible for girls to stay in school while hygienically attending to their menstrual needs, and to concentrate better 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: Sustainable Pads and Menstrual Cups
BARKA is currently looking into how it can support a local Burkina Faso social enterprise that is producing its own sustainable, reusable sanitary pads made from locally sourced materials. We are also in the process of raising funds to implement a project that will introduce menstrual pads to Burkinabè women for the first time in this nation’s history. Read more about BARKA’s menstrual cup project.
“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.