I WAS at a youth meeting last Friday and got the most amazing experience of interacting with brilliant young people.
The group was diverse, made up of lawyers, media practitioners, writers/bloggers like myself and professionals from the civic sector aged between 18 and 35 years.
You can then imagine how interesting and intense the conversations got.
We talked about matters that may appear simple like having a Zimbabwean national dress/attire to real issues like the traumas we have inherited from our elders from their past ordeals.
One issue in particular that has been in my head since last Friday is how some members of the group believed that the issue of sanitary wear and general menstrual health and hygiene was being “shoved down their throats”.
Needless to say this became a debate. Fortunately enough, we all had the ability to listen and respect all the different opinions that were flying around the room but it was a passionate debate.
The men who naturally seemed to share the same sentiments had a coy way of trying to woo us over to their line of thought.
They would seem to agree with the idea that menstrual health and hygiene should be streamlined before they abruptly disagreed with the manner in which it was done.
My question for them and now posed to everyone reading this is what correct way is there to create awareness around menstrual hygiene without offending anyone?
This goes back to an article I once wrote on menstruation being a taboo topic of discussion despite it being a natural process and this fact is what has caused thousands of young girls and women to suffer in silence with little to no menstrual hygiene management systems.
My instant reaction was to indicate the obvious, that they were men and hence their understanding of menstruation and its effects was limited so they should observe silence.
But like I said it was a respectful debate and I was forced to rethink my approach because after all, these same men are the fathers, brothers and partners of girls and women and therefore, a critical part of the conversation and solutions.
Once the word sensationalised was thrown into the discussion I realised that people from what I will call ‘well off’ backgrounds for lack of a better word are genuinely oblivious to the sanitary conditions that girls and women from especially the poorest parts of the world are living through.
I think that before you are engrossed into the issue via study or personal interaction with these women and girls it all remains a story.
That detachment from that reality makes it easy to assume that there is a bias in the reports from NGOs, government departments and other institutions that work on menstrual health and hygiene that overhypes the real situation to manipulate everyone’s impression on the issue.
It is only until one listens to the measures some of our fellow women and girls take every single month for a certain number of days coming from the horse’s mouths do you realise how real and devastating a period can get.
I cannot even imagine how some women have successfully used cow dung and mud to contain Aunt Flo, what type of leaf even absorbs liquid like that?
Only then will it dawn on you that a lot more needs to be done to remove, first of all, the stigma attached to mensies and secondly, to make sanitary wear and menstrual health education accessible to every single woman on Earth.
Talking about accessibility, one lady lawyer in the group who naturally shared my sentiments explained that as distressing as it is for women in the poor parts of the world and Zimbabwe, more and more women in urban Zimbabwe for example are also finding it harder to access sanitary wear.
With the current economic situation pads, cotton wool and tampon prices have skyrocketed making it a bigger headache to get hands on them and a bigger nuisance to be a woman with ovaries that need to bleed out on a monthly basis despite the economic standings.
This is before we calculate the costs of painkillers and in severe menstrual cramp cases, the inability to work. If the need exists to remind everybody that was born of a woman, everybody who has conceived a girl child and everyone who loves a woman in one form or the other that menstruation occurs involuntarily and the woman should not be passively punished for her biological make up then by all means a reminder will be “shoved down their throats”.
We then moved on to how NGOs, the government and other institutions that work on menstrual health and hygiene have created an industry out of menstrual health and hygiene management.
Sometimes the only thing that will motivate people to stand up and work towards a greater good is money.
That is how we people are. Same way issues like climate change, cancer awareness, hunger and poverty are monetised even though they are deep issues that we all should be advocates of willingly.
In fact, the way I see it is that the bigger industry of menstrual health and hygiene is the wider probability for every woman to get the sanitary wear and learn the sanitary habits that they deserve.
Besides, how is it okay to have a whole industry that manufactures sanitary wear and sells it for profit and not okay to have an industry that pushes for those products to reach the people that need them? Is it because the other industry is a potential threat to the other? I don’t know.
My point is some pills are hard to swallow but they must be administered.
We cannot avoid menstruation at all. Culture or no culture, money or no money, in broad daylight or behind closed doors, bloody Mary will always make her visit and her visit has effects that need to be taken into account as an observation of a woman’s human rights for her overall wellbeing.
It may feel like the world is doing too much by putting the issue right in our faces especially if you are already the type of person that will purchase sanitary wear for their wife, daughter, sister and the girl from down the road.
However, prepare yourself for a lot more of jumping and screaming because more needs to be done to assist where we should, however way we can.