Today we want to talk about what dads, and other men and boys, can do to improve menstrual hygiene. I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t menstrual hygiene a women’s issue?”
Well, we’re tired of the term “women’s issues.” Menstrual hygiene management is not just for women. Women with proper resources to deal with their periods – including sanitary products, access to clean water, and education – are better providers for their children, and are able to share more responsibilities with their husbands and male family members. Girls with the right resources miss less school, have more confidence, and are able to make better decisions for themselves, which affects their lives and their families far into the future.
In short, good menstrual hygiene management improves everyone’s lives.
But supporting women and girls with the right resources cannot be achieved by women alone; men have a huge part to play in making proper menstrual hygiene possible. This post features five things that dads – and brothers, sons, and male friends and relatives – can do to support the women in their lives:
1. Provide support at home or school when a girl faces her first period, or a woman has an embarrassing or difficult experience. When we interview girls in Ethiopia, often one of the first things they say is that they are afraid of being ridiculed or teased by their brothers or male classmates. At Adigudem Secondary School, boys are starting to stick up for girls when they are being teased about their periods. This effort is being led by Miluf, the chairman of the student parliament. This 15 year-old is not afraid to talk about periods, and is working to teach the younger boys that periods are natural.
2. As the head of the household who controls the finances, men can ensure female family members can afford appropriate sanitary protection materials. These supplies need to be made a household priority, if they are available. In rural regions where pads are not frequently available men need to stress that the demand for these products is high, and support businesses like the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory to help get pads into their communities.
3. As a community member who can challenge taboos, social norms and stigma, men have the power to influence the attitudes of others (both male and female). Men still retain the majority of political and social power around the world. In order to make menstrual hygiene a priority for community leaders, men and women need to work together to advocate for social norm change.
4. As teachers or employers, men can ensure that the school or work environment makes it easy for girls and women to manage menstruation with dignity. Tesfamariam Weldu, an English teacher at Arena Secondary School, tells boys that periods are a “gift of nature.” He says that eventually, when they are educated about menstruation, boys stop teasing girls. Men can also use their political clout to encourage schools to have sanitary products on hand, adequate menstrual hygiene facilities, and a safe place for girls to manage their menstrual hygiene.
5. As professional engineers, social development specialists, managers or medical professionals, men can support programs for improving the menstrual hygiene context for girls and women. Our research and distribution team has men leading the charge to get sanitary products to girls in schools in rural Ethiopia. Shewaye Belay, one of our researchers with Mekelle University’s Menstrual Dignity Project, has been working tirelessly to improve lives for girls. We need to support men like him as they work for a world when every girl can manage their periods with dignity.
Special thanks to WaterAid for their informative report – Menstrual Hygiene Matters.