Facilitator: Esther Nakkazi
Implementing Partner: Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU)
Reporting period: March 2016
HEJNU: Undertake behavioral change communication / Menstrual Hygiene
ACTIVITY: Science café to facilitate dissemination of information concerning Menstrual Hygiene to the public through various media houses.
This activity was a science café held as part of the process of developing an ongoing dialogue between journalist and advocates, policymakers, researchers and implementers in reproductive health and dissemination of the information to the public the public through various media houses. The science café was attended by representatives from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU), AFRIpads (U) Ltd, Straight talk Uganda, Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU) and members of the press.
OBJECTIVE OF THE ACTIVITY
To equip journalists with all the relevant information concerning Menstrual Hygiene Management so they can effectively and authoritatively dissemination educative information to the public.
Moderator: Esther Nakkazi
The moderator introduced the Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) to the audience and welcomed all those that were in attendance for their first time. She then thanked UNFPA, Reach a Hand and Straight Talk Foundation not only for the continued support to these science cafés but also for inviting presenters for the day.
She noted that to date, menstrual hygiene is an issue of concern in our communities that need to be addressed at all levels. Bringing together experts in menstrual hygiene and journalists will ensure that relevant information is given to the journalists who will, in turn, reach out to the public with relevant information on menstrual hygiene through the stories they will publish.
Theme: Menstrual Hygiene
Presenter 1: Dr. Edson Muhwezi, UNFPA
Dr. Edson Muhwezi noted that there is a challenge all over the country, most especially in the rural settings, concerning menstrual hygiene and information disseminating concerning this issue not only lies in the hands of health workers but also the press.
H advised that improving menstrual hygiene management has a number of benefits that include reducing the prevalence of urinary tract infections and thus giving women and girls a better healthy life, increasing self-esteem among girls and thus empowering them socially and reducing the dropout rate in various schools in the country.
He implored the government to increase budget allocations towards menstrual hygiene management and generate national policies that are geared towards its improvement and recommended raising public awareness within our communities focused on adolescent girls in schools.
He summarized by stating that these policies will need implementation, therefore, the government will have to create the necessary program support for their implementation in addition to providing oversight and monitoring support.
Presenter 2: Mr. Godfrey Walakira, Straight Talk Foundation
Mr. Godfrey Walakira noted that menstrual hygiene management is a very crucial issue and there is a correlation between school attendance, dropout rate, early marriage and how girls manage their menstrual hygiene. It is one of the reasons why many girls do not attend school regularly or eventually drop out of school.
He further stressed the need for proper toilets in the schools where girls can change their pads in privacy. “The responsibility belongs to both the communities and the central government, however, we should not wait for the government to act. We need to do what we can and the government will find us along the way” he added.
“In areas like Karamoja and eastern Uganda, this is an issue of shame and we as partners are not doing enough to support the cause. Currently, we have partnered with UNFPA and started some operational research to enable us to link reusable sanitary pads plus all other facilities like water and creating secure space to improving school attendance in September 2016” he said.
“We are working with756 schools, both primary and secondary, targeting 52,000 girls. We have been able to distribute pads, counsel the girls and also give them other alternatives ” he said. “The intention is to see if providing these facilities will reduce the school dropout rate for the girls” he added.
He summarized by stressing the need to work collectively in order to effectively create publicity for menstrual hygiene management.
Presenter 3: M/s. Sophia Grinvalds, Founder & Director, AFRIpads (U) Ltd
M/s. Sophia informed the members that at AFRIpads, they believe that women’s empowerment begins with something as simple as their dignity and the ability to manage one of the most shared female experiences the world over which is, menstruation.
Having a humble beginning in 2009 in a village outside Masaka with the realization the girls and women around the village had their options limited to disposable pads when they went into their periods, a solution that was durable and more cost effective like reusable sanitary pads were born through AFRIpads.
AFRIpads is a local manufacturer of reusable sanitary pads that has grown over the years to become a global supplier. “We have partnerships with a number of institutions and governments that purchase our products and distribute them for free,” she said.
She noted that they have reached out to over 750,000 women and girls all over the world. “This demonstrates how a simple product can help women and girls live a more productive and healthy life with dignity” she added.
She informed the journalists that the sanitary pads are usable for a period of 12+ months therefore they are a proven cost effective solution and are logistically easy to distribute. They are also ultra absorbent and ecofriendly since they do not require regular disposal.
She summarized by hailing the government of Uganda for exempting sanitary pads from VAT charges then requested her colleagues to explain further the products they distribute.
Presenter 4: M/s. Willeke Westra, Sales & Marketing Executive, AFRIpads (U) Ltd
M/s. Willeke Westra explained to the journalists that AFRIpads has two brands of sanitary pads, the deluxe menstrual kit and So sure (the retail kit). This was done to make it affordable and also entice first time users to test their product. The deluxe kit contains 4 pads while the So sure kit has 2 pads.
She went ahead and explained how cost effective AFRIpads sanitary products are and demonstrated how they are used, cleaned and stored for reuse. After breaking down the cost, she showed that with one AFRIpads deluxe kit you can support the menstrual hygiene of a girl for a year, which, you cannot do with the disposable pads making the AFRIpads products more durable.
“Reusable pads also reduce on the environmental footprint since disposables take really long to decompose” she further explained. The main challenge faced however is menstruation being a taboo in most communities, there is a lot of stigma and many misconceptions about it.
She summarized by seconding the use of Private Public Partnerships to support community mobilization and which in turn will have a powerful impact that will see menstrual hygiene being approached in a comprehensive and holistic way.
Presenter 5: M/s. Christine Nabubakye, Territory Manager, AFRIpads (U) Ltd
M/s. Christine Nabubakye stressed the need to appreciate the importance of menstrual hygiene as a health issue. “Very many beliefs and myths are still common in various communities concerning menstruation and the after effects,” she said. “At AFRIpads we consistently carry out a lot of public awareness campaigns” she added.
AFRIpads sanitary pads have so far reached all over Uganda with So sure being sold in the supermarkets as the retail brand. She explained that their marketing team has moved from supermarket to supermarket making the So sure sanitary pads available to the public.
She summarized by encouraging the ladies present to sample their products as a combination product with the disposable pads and reiterated that the reusable sanitary pads are a very cost effective otion.
Question and answer session
- What can be said about the governments pledge and its level of implementation so far?
- How far has AFRIpads reached out within the country?
- What role do the men have to play in sensitizing the girls?
- Manny women use the tissue. What are the effects of using a tissue?
- How does having sex during the menses affect the woman?
- When some women are on family planning, they take long to get their periods. Does this affect them health-wise in any way?
Dr. Edson Muhwezi
Using tissue: Infections are prevalent where there is no hygiene and use of tissue has a tendency to become unhygienic. This poses a threat of infection if the users’ hygiene is not good.
Having sex during the menses: This is not a recommended practice however, in case it is done, some caution should be taken.
Family planning and menstruation: During menstruation, there loss of blood, which means, the body looses iron and some other minerals in the process. The body holding onto these minerals a month or two does not cause any harm to it.
Mr. Walakira Godfrey
The government’s pledge: Yes the pledge has been there however we cannot wait for the pledge to be fulfilled. What we have done with our partners is comprehensive education concerning the important issue surrounding menstrual hygiene management. This issues concerns much more than just the distribution of sanitary pads. We have discussed with the schools to provide secure places for the girls to change We have also not only discussed with the girls the right material to use and to avoid materials than can cause damage or infections but also women and the girl’s fathers.
We have developed material that is explicit and explain in detail about menstruation and its hygiene management. What has to be appreciated is that menstrual hygiene management is a concerted effort by partners and the communities at large.
The role men have to play in the sensitization process: This is a good way forward and we are talking to the boys to be supportive to the girls both at school and in their homes.
M/s. Sophia Grinvalds
Outreach of Afripads: AFRIpads has had comprehensive community engagement all the way from Bwindi to Karamoja.
The role men have to play in the sensitization process: It is important to make boys part of the conversation especially the siblings and the Fathers since they are close to the girls.
THE ACTIVITY RESULTS:
The participants from the various media houses received the important information concerning menstrual hygiene plus long and short-term solutions for better hygiene that will guarantee better health for the girl child.
The science café achieved its initial target, which involved educating the journalists on issues concerning menstrual hygiene. The participants agreed to publish articles aimed at sensitizing communities concerning the need for good menstrual hygiene in order to promote good health.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND IMMEDIATE FOLLOW UP ACTIONS
- Journalists were tasked to ensure frequent publication of menstrual hygiene related issues through the various media houses that were represented at the café in order to facilitate sensitization of communities all over the country and most especially in the rural areas.