BREAKING THE SILENCE: Group advocates inclusion of sex/menstrual education into school curriculum

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    Chinyere Maduka (not her real names) usually skips school whenever she is menstruating.  A student of one of the secondary schools in Enugu, the Enugu state capital, Chinyere has little knowledge about a woman’s menstrual cycle.

    When a woman menstruates, there is a flow of blood from her womb, usually once a month. This is a natural phenomenon, but Chinyere mistakenly regard this monthly occurrence as a taboo, and, therefore, stays away from school.

    And to compound her problem, Chinyere is short of money to buy sanitary pad, and even when the money is available, she lacks sufficient knowledge about menstrual hygiene.

    This is not an isolated case.  According to Ogene Ogbodo Jude, executive director, Town Crier Initiative Africa (TCIA) a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), many secondary school girls, as well as teenage girls outside the school system are bereft of adequate information concerning menstruation, and use of sanity pads.

    Speaking at this year’s World Menstrual Hygiene Day held in Enugu on May 28, Ogbodo, called for the inclusion of menstrual/sex education in the school curriculum, as well as making it mandatory for all schools to have pad banks, basically for the benefit of the girl-child.

    He also called on the Federal Government to remove Value Added Tax (VAT) from menstrual products, saying that “by so doing pad can be easily accessible to all.

    According to Jude, “men and boys should get involved in generating discussion around menstruation; and should imbibe in themselves the spirit of acquiring sanitary kits for their children, wards, friends, class/workmate, and spouses.” .

     TCIA focuses on promoting access to education, water sanitation and hygiene (WASH); as well as encouraging skill acquisition, self-empowerment, and promoting access to medical information and medical treatment.

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    Speaking further, Jude said:  “when we started working in the schools, we found out that the girl-child doesn’t really miss school because she can’t pay school fees,

    “We found out also that the girl- child misses school because she can’t afford to buy some menstrual kits. She doesn’t have WASH facilities in the school to manage.  So, if we must promote education, we must work on health, and we must work on WASH.

     “We also found out that menstrual hygiene is always being silent. It is an issue that nobody is talking about.  We just thought that the best thing we could do is to have a discussion around this menstruation issue.

    “We found out that men are not even getting fully involved in this issue.  So, it looked like women issue alone.

    “So, we decided that the best thing to do is: bring the youths together in generating this discussion to see how we can end the stigma, the taboos and norms surrounding menstrual hygiene.”

    According to Jude, the organization has sensitized about  5,000 girls from more than 15 schools in Enugu state in the past three years on menstrual hygiene, as well as given them kits too.

    “We now have a generation where men are getting informed on how they can help the female in tackling the issue.

    “We have nurses, pharmacists, community workers in our midst, and we have medical doctors in our organization.  So, the organization is not necessarily about the executive director.   It’s a team work.   We have at least 70 active volunteers in four different states.

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    “We work in Anambra, Plateau, Enugu states, and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).    Even today May 28), our team in Anambra and Abuja went to the field, but because of school, we are here today to have internal discussions. 

    The day witnessed a menstrual hygiene hang-out with participants made up of boys.  They spent most of the day discussing on menstrual hygiene, and learning how to make reusable and disposable pads.

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    “We explained to them that there is nothing wrong with menstruation.   We told the boys and girls gathered here that it is a natural phenomenon.  And that is the truth.  Unfortunately, many parents have not explained to the girl-child what menstruation is all about. “We have actually broken the silence on menstruation,” s Henry Dubem, Enugu State Coordinator of TCIA.

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