Menstruation is a justice issue in Ethiopia.
Why should I be ashamed of having periods? We are taught not to speak of it publicly; we are prepared to hide our menstrual products from society; we are shamed for staining our skirts or pants. This is the sad reality of what young girls and women face daily in their community. Menstruation is stigmatized around the world, despite the fact that over 800 million people menstruate every day; women have continued to face a wide range of gender inequities and discrimination social standards that negatively impact their health, empowerment, and well-being. According to a 2014 UNESCO report, one out of every ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa omits school during their menstruation because they complete absence access to sanitary products or never had safe, residential toilets to use at school. Similarly, during menstruation, more than half of all girls in Ethiopia’s Amhara province are unable to attend secondary and preparatory schools.
Period poverty is real and is well alive in Ethiopia.
Picture by UN women
Imagine the constant struggle of hiding from your periods and not having safe spaces to talk about menstruation and menstrual health education within your community, teachers, healthcare workers; an alarming situation is that men are culturally believed that menstruation is terrible, and this creates toxic masculinity among adolescent boys that will be passed unto generations allowing men to feel entitled to women, and this should never be the case; young boys and men should empower women through their menstruation journey and find possible solutions to help young girls and women in accessing essential menstrual products.
Menstrual stigma isn’t just a veto in Ethiopia, it directly impacts young girls and women’s health.
According to statistics, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on the planet; Furthermore, extreme poverty limits girls’ access to reproductive health education and services. Many girls in Ethiopia, as in other parts of the world, insufficient financial material resources, such as sanitary products and other safe menstrual cleaning agents, particularly in remote areas (Smiles et al., 2017). Period poverty causes physical, mental, and emotional stress, making young girls and women feel ashamed of menstruating. People are afraid to talk about their periods because of the stigma attached to them. Eliminating the stigma associated with menstruation is a critical step toward eradicating period poverty. There is a lot of misinformation out there about menstruation.
In Ethiopia, the majority of young girls in rural areas don’t really have direct exposure to sanitary products. It is crucial to grasp the effects of women and girls in rural areas that, due to a lack of menstrual products, they miss school during their menstrual cycle. Basic menstrual hygiene is a human right, and there must be possible solutions to eradicate period poverty.
Significant barriers to high-quality menstrual hygiene management (MHM) continue to exist throughout Ethiopia, with rates particularly high in rural and remote areas. Girls frequently lack consistent access to education about sexual maturity and menstrual health, with 67 percent of Ethiopian girls reporting no menstrual education in school. Approximately 80% of women in rural areas and girls use homemade alternatives, and slightly more than a quarter of the population in both rural and urban areas has access to improved sanitation. Due to a lack of good products, Women in resource-poor parts of the region handle their menstrual bleeding with old clothes, sheets, cotton or wool pieces, and even leaves. The situation is even worse for only female students in schools (Geertz et al., 2016).
Why is menstrual health still a taboo in Ethiopia?
Menstruation is not the issue; it is poor menstrual hygiene that is! And the government must act, developing strategies and methods to manufacture sanitary products and distribute them freely, particularly in Ethiopia’s poor communities. Menstrual literacy and puberty education are critical components of a comprehensive response to menstrual-related challenges. Menstruation issues should, in theory, be addressed among girls and boys as well as the broader school community as part of comprehensive sexuality education (JULIEN, 2020). Many parents, society, and community representatives at the grassroots level must have a better understanding of menstruation as a natural, healthy part of physical development.
More than half of the world’s population menstruates; let’s not pretend it’s not a thing! A teacher was the most common source of information about menstrual health, followed by a grandmother and a friend. Only 9.4 percent of young girls surveyed in urban settings learned about menstruation from their mother, compared to 40.7 percent who learned about menstrual period from a teacher (SPLASH, 2020). It’s saddening that young girls and women have to doubt their menstruation and can’t always seek advice from their family and friends; one study found that 10% of them came to believe their period was indeed a burden from God. Instead, in most African countries, it’s seen as shameful and ignorant, and this sadly impacts the education, health, and dignity of many young girls and women in Ethiopia. Periods must be celebrated, and one must feel empowered by it. And that’s on periodttt!
Picture by the Borgen project
Menstruation and reproductive knowledge are some of the most powerful methods for overcoming period poverty.
Geertz, A., Iyer, L., Kasen, P., Mazzola, F., & Peterson, K. (2016). Menstrual Health in Ethiopia | Country Landscape Analysis. https://menstrualhygieneday.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/FSG-Menstrual-Health-Landscape_Ethiopia.pdf
JULIEN, L.-A. (2020, May 6). It’s a human right, period. Africa Portal. https://www.africaportal.org/features/its-human-right-period/
Knisely, A. F. (2018, August 14). Teen girls are missing school because they don’t have access to feminine hygiene products. The Tennessean. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2018/08/14/lack-feminine-hygiene-products-keeps-girls-out-school/948313002/
Lindsay.Capozzi. (2021, April 5). Period Poverty: The Public Health Crisis We Don’t Talk About. Policylab.chop.edu. https://policylab.chop.edu/blog/period-poverty-public-health-crisis-we-dont-talk-about
Smiles, D., Short, S. E., & Sommer, M. (2017). “I Didn’t Tell Anyone Because I Was Very Afraid”: Girls’ Experiences of Menstruation in Contemporary Ethiopia. Women’s Reproductive Health, 4(3), 185–197. https://doi.org/10.1080/23293691.2017.1388721
SPLASH. (2020). Ethiopia Menstrual Health Literature Review Ethiopia Menstrual Health Literature Review. https://splash.org/assets/ETH-Literature-Review.pdf