By Diguera Azoura & Fabienne Bertrand
Menstruation has always been a taboo subject in Chadian society. Thus, during the International Menstrual Hygiene Day, UNICEF in Chad seized the opportunity to bring together all actors around the challenges faced by girls and women in this country. On this occasion, a drawing and writing contest was launched in 14 schools of N’Djamena, the capital, to have the voice of adolescents around menstruation. Some students, who are engaged in their schools for better menstrual hygiene management, participated in the competition, and gave their opinion on the needs as well as the support to give to girls when they have their periods.
“My drawing was about latrines, buckets, soaps, sanitary pads, underpants and water pumps to show the importance of menstrual hygiene management and the usage of latrines. I was fortunate to have received advice from my grandmother who reassured me and helped me manage my periods without any stress. Now, I am able to give my sister good advice on how she can manage her period each month. “ Halimé Innocente 15 years old (Grade 6).
In Chad, eight out of ten students do not have access to water, sanitation and hygiene services, putting at risk more than 800,000 girls.
To this is added the taboo of menstruation, as it continues to be defamed, discussed with hesitation and poorly known. This situation depicts the daily lives of teenage girls who live in shame and fear every month, due to lack of services and information.
“Menstruation are indeed a natural phenomenon and we, as boys, must understand the girls (our classmates) who have to handle the stress that comes with it. My female classmates are often ashamed to talk about their periods in class. So, I often ask them questions to better understand this phenomenon and tell them that we are here to support them”. Djingamadjibeye Roger 13 years old (Grade 6).
In the survey conducted by the Ministry of Education and Civic Promotion (MENPC) and UNICEF in 50 schools in Chad in 2018, 81% of girls said that latrines were not suitable for their menstrual hygiene management. When these toilets existed, the privacy was lacking by the absence of a simple door with a lock. Most of the time these latrines were not clean, and the handwashing device was not always present.
“Since last year we have received a lot of advice to better manage our menstrual hygiene, a luck which other girls in the past did not have. For a girl who has her periods, having everything she needs is very important. But what I hate the most is when boys make fun of girls with a blood stain on their skirts during their periods in class “. Mendjipi Lucie 15 years old (Grade 5).
The issue of hygiene in schools and specifically the management of menstruation is a major factor affecting the retention of girls in school and their academic performance. In Chad, an adolescent girl loses about 45 days a year due to the problem of menstrual hygiene management.
The voice of these young teenagers reminds us that this situation is unacceptable for a natural biological process affecting half of the humanity.
“I do not have my periods yet, but I have received all the necessary information from my teacher that will be useful for me when the time comes. The most important thing for me is to have a water pump and a separate boys-girls toilet because without water or toilet, a girl cannot clean herself frequently to avoid stains and stay clean. Personally, I feel ready to manage my periods when it comes”. Teingue Robine 12 years old (Grade 5).
The lack of infrastructure in schools is heavy for adolescent girls in Chad. Yet, good management of menstruation is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is an integral part of human rights.
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education in strengthening the enabling environment for students to learn in a healthy and inclusive environment. The Ministry with the support from UNICEF officially launched the National Strategy for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, in which menstrual hygiene management is a strategic path whose main activities are aimed for an inclusive and equitable schooling environment for both girls and female teachers.
“I have a big sister at home who has a book about menstrual hygiene. I learned a lot about this phenomenon that comes once a month for girls, by reading that book. The girls must stop being afraid and think that they are cursed. This year, in the school where I am, they are fortunate that we often talk to them about the menstruation and its management.” Djimgangoto Frederic 14 years old (Grade 5).
Since 2018, UNICEF, with the support of the National Committee of South Korea, has been implementing integrated programs through the improvement of water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure in schools, social support and teacher and student’s education. The program started in 4 schools in N’Djamena, the capital, and is now spread to about 417 schools. Young teens who testified above belong to the minority of schools that have access to this infrastructure.
Celebrated under the theme: Yes! Together we can put an end to the stigma of the menstruation, the International Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on May 28, helped to better educate girls on the hygiene management of their menstruation, advocate for their access to sanitary pads to protect themselves and specially to speak out to raise awareness to end the stigma behind this phenomenon.