Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019: why men are part of the solution to Period Poverty

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Making menstrual hygiene products more accessible and affordable for women and girls in Tanzania is one of the complex challenges we are tackling at I4ID.

We lead a coalition of dedicated activists, policy makers and business leaders determined to make period poverty a thing of the past.

We focus on improving market systems and tackling the social taboos around menstruation that hold back Tanzanian women and girls.

MHM team leader Anna Bwana explains why our latest initiative is breaking new ground. 

Women and girls are at the heart of our work but on this this Menstrual Hygiene Day we want men to be part of the solution too. Why? Because in a patriarchal society like Tanzania, men hold the purse strings at every level. From individual households, to national market systems, to government policy, men are largely in charge and if they are silent on the importance of safe, affordable menstrual hygiene we will never see an end to Period Poverty. 

It’s a huge challenge in a conservative society like ours, but last week I witnessed something that would be unusual anywhere in the world, let alone here, in Tanzania: a group of men sitting around discussing period cramps, menstrual cups and the cost of sanitary pads. Imagine! 

These men are some of Tanzania’s top journalists who we hosted at a workshop last week to educate members of the media on the basics of menstruation and the consequences of period poverty, to encourage them to cover Menstrual Health Management (MHM). 

MHM is a massive problem here. 85% of women and girls in Tanzania don’t have access to modern menstrual health products. Instead they use strips of cloth, which leak and are difficult to keep clean, or other traditional methods such as dried leaves and grass, or even cow dung. As a result girls miss school every month and women are unable to work.

But in many Tanzanian communities talking about menstruation is taboo among women, let alone men, many of whom are unaware of the realities of menstruation. Men like 26 year old Khalifa Said, a reporter at The Citizen newspaper.

I was shocked,” he said. “I grew up in a village but I couldn’t believe some women and girls in rural areas use animal skins or manure to cope with menstruation. This is one of many subjects that is completely taboo in Tanzanian culture - like abortion, gay rights, sexual assault - it makes people feel uncomfortable.

I left the workshop and immediately pitched a story about the cost of sanitary pads to my editor.  The Government of Tanzania urgently needs to explore how they can make sanitary pads more widely available, whether through subsidising the cost of production or providing them free to schools. Any man would be crazy not to care about that - we all have a mother, sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend.”

By speaking out in this way our male journalists become part of the solution to period poverty, which is stunting Tanzania’s economic growth and social development. If men are better educated on MHM then wives and daughters are more likely to ask their husbands and fathers for money for pads or a cup. Male business leaders will realise the huge market potential that exists for affordable menstrual hygiene products. 

“Safe menstruation is vital for women and girls, to catalyze development in their daily lives. Men we have a big role to play in that as well.” Fid-Q supporting #MHM on Instagram

“Safe menstruation is vital for women and girls, to catalyze development in their daily lives. Men we have a big role to play in that as well.” Fid-Q supporting #MHM on Instagram

I’m proud that in 2018 Tanzania became the first country in the region to exempt sanitary pads from VAT. Male Tanzanian celebrities spoke out then, joining our campaign on social media. Men like popular actor Jacob Stephen, known as JB. He congratulated the Government on the VAT cut, posting on social media that #safemenstruation is “one of the responsibilities of a man, just like other responsibilities. If you involve him, he can help.”  

Earlier this month Hip Hop artist Fid-Q posted on Instagram “A woman being in her periods does not mean that she is a jinx, does not mean that she should be pushed aside.”

Despite the tax-cut sanitary pads remain prohibitively expensive in the majority of retailers, but it’s too soon to evaluate the true impact of the tax cut. It has galvanised support for the issue ,which is critical. Greater public awareness about the social cost of period poverty will put pressure on retailers to lower their prices and remove what we call “pink tax” - gender-based price discrimination where products marketed at women are generally more expensive than equivalent products for men. 

So on this Menstrual Hygiene Day I’m feeling positive that we are moving in the right direction. Shifting social norms on a huge issue like MHM doesn’t happen overnight, but this takes us another step closer to the affordable, safe menstrual hygiene all women and girls deserve.