By Aasma Mojiz
ISLAMABAD: The Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Working Group celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2017 at the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services on Wednesday.
World Menstrual Hygiene Day is marked internationally on May 28. The theme this year, and for Wednesday’s event, was ‘Education about Menstruation Changes Everything’.
The event included short addresses from various speakers, as well as a panel discussion and a talk with MHM ‘champions’ Sana Mehmood, Hajra Khan and Kiran Khan.
The panel discussion was moderated by WaterAid policy and advocacy manager Nadeem Ahmad, and featured Adviser on Prime Minister’s Education Reform Programme Ali Raza, National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz, Pakistan Institute for Environment-Development Action Research CEO Syed Ayub Qutub and gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Naseem Ashraf.
Mr Raza said the silence around menstruation is a challenge any educationist would face.
“The challenge is unfortunately, many times, when we really want to touch upon such subjects – especially public sector institutions – we tend to get branded by parents that we are not supposed to talk about such things,” he said.
He added: “11pc more girls would attend school if there are proper sanitation facilities in schools. When we started to work with Wash in this, particularly Prime Minister’s Education Reform Programme, we realised there is serious absenteeism in girls’ schools.”
He explained that there were two reasons for girls dropping out of school at this point in their education.
“One, essentially, was the sanitation issue. Or, putting it in a different context, providing a conducive environment for learning. So, for example, if there is no boundary wall or the toilets are not adequate in number, you see an issue with the enrolment in these schools. The other issue was access. Most girls, when they get to a certain age, their parents are very reluctant to send them to school through these other transport [providers].”
NCSW Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz said physical growth happens in stages, and menstruation is an important stage in the physical growth of a child, which girls are not capable to handle. She said this has a physical as well as a psychological impact on girls and can affect their self confidence.
We did a study 30 years ago to find out the source of information for girls regarding stages such as menstruation, marriage or pregnancy, she went on. “We think that people get this information from their mothers, but they do not. [It comes] from peers – school girls, older sisters and often from relatives.”
She added that the way people think about menstruation also needs to change. She referenced a statement made by Mr Qutub earlier in the discussion, who had noted that girls have started menstruating earlier in their lives than before, and said the custom of thinking of menstruation as a sign that a girl is ready for marriage cannot apply to girls at the age of nine or 10.
She said the law also does not allow child marriage, regardless of whether a girl has started menstruating. “Girls and parents should know that this is a stage of biological growth, it is not something that is taboo. It is a stage, which should be seen as the normal and natural growth and development process,” she said.
She also said attention should be paid to the materials and facilities available in schools, saying she had seen schools that had bathrooms and water but the bathrooms were locked because there was no provision for a cleaner in the budget.
Ms Mumtaz and Dr Ashraf also noted the health risks associated with unhygienic menstruation practices. When asked about the impact these could have on health, Dr Ashraf said the human body is strong and good at cleaning itself, so the situation regarding health risks is not as bad as it could have been.
The event also featured a short discussion with the captain of the Pakistan Women’s Basketball team Sana Mehmood, Pakistan’s first international female swimmer Kiran Khan and captain of the Pakistan Women’s Football team Hajra Khan, who were dubbed MHM champions and awarded prizes. All three athletes discussed their experiences as women in sport.
The event was moderated by Gaming Revolution for International Development CEO Rizwan Nusrat, who later introduced the mobile phone game MoHIM, which aims to educate people on menstruation.