Menstrual hygiene – A salient hazard in rural schools: A case of Masvingo district of Zimbabwe
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Active participation of the girl child in development is hampered by Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) challenges. MHM is an important gender issue and a critical component in holistic human development. It affects about 25% of the global population aged between 15 and 49 years. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions in schools have not prioritised MHM, thus exposing girls and the entire school community to health related hazards. The study explored knowledge, attitudes and community practices, and investigated the impact of religious and cultural beliefs on MHM and how they impact on the girl child in Masvingo district. The survey was largely qualitative and employed methodologies of document analysis, Focus Group Discussions (FGD) and structured interviews. Participants included four churches, 13 NGOs, eight government departments and 40 women. Findings revealed deeply embedded power relations, a culture of silence around MHM, noninvolvement of men in MHM issues, limited availability in terms of information, and a girl unfriendly infrastructure, and limited access to menstrual hygiene products due to poverty and poor management and disposal practices. Resultant effects ranged from poor class participation, lack of concentration and constrained interactions with peers and teachers, low self-esteem, anxiety and the general feeling of being discriminated against. Results confirmed the need for increased awareness initiatives on MHM in a bid to tackle inherent religious and cultural beliefs that are a barrier to effective holistic implementation of WASH interventions that empower women and girls. Lobbying government to provide an appropriate policy framework, education and training, construction of girl friendly sanitary facilities, exploring and capitalisation of local production of Reusable Menstrual Pads (RUMPS), more research targeting children living with disabilities, those living in refugee and makeshift camps and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), are some of the recommendations coming out of the study.