In countries where people heavily stigmatize menstruation, many girls and young women have to resort to excluding themselves from many activities—including their own education. This is the case for many girls and young women in the West African country of Senegal. As one young Senegalese woman, Nogaye, explained to UNICEF: “Without feminine hygiene products, many girls skip school while on their periods. That means they miss up to a week of school every month, so they start to fall behind and eventually drop out.” This is why UNICEF is currently teaming up with many of these young women and various Senegalese NGOs in an initiative that is working to address this problem. There are several things to know regarding this initiative and UNICEF’s work in Senegal.
Menstruation is a part of stigma and misunderstanding in Senegalese society. As U.N. Women stated, “Menstruation is a taboo subject in a Senegalese society strongly marked by beliefs, myths, religious and community prohibitions, which affects the management of menstrual hygiene.”
While Senegalese women have good general knowledge about menstruation, such as “the normal duration of menstruation, the length of the menstrual cycle and the consequences of poor menstrual hygiene on health,” support and understanding from society and consequently access to supplies, are quite sparse, U.N. Women reports. This is one major reason many girls and young women, at the start of their period, exclude themselves from any school or social-related activities.
UNICEF’s Work in Senegal
UNICEF, however, is currently teaming up with young women in Senegal to “[explore] new and creative ways to locally produce menstrual supply kits” so that girls do not have to miss out on their education.
One particularly promising route that UNICEF is taking so far is supporting the creation of reusable sanitary cloth pads for girls and women of underserved communities. By partnering with local NGOs, UNICEF is working to train young women, including young men, in how to create these safe and affordable pads as well as other menstrual hygiene products, as it reported on its website.
As one young Senegalese trainee, Ndela, explained to UNICEF, “The training included sessions on how to sew sanitary pads and hygienic sanitary materials in line with the approved and labeled standards, using locally sourced fabric, coupled with sessions on building entrepreneurial skills.” During the training, the women produced a total of 20,900 pads, which they will later distribute to the schools across the region.
Thus, this initiative is going beyond immediate support for the girls and women of Senegal. However, the creation of these products is also helping Senegalese youth to become more self-sufficient and secure in their future. “Supported by UNICEF, this initiative aims not only to provide schoolgirls with sanitary pads but also to empower the young beneficiaries of the training to sustain their activities,” UNICEF reported on its website.
Other impactful solutions by UNICEF include the creation and distribution of “dignity kits” which contain, among other supplies, these handmade, reusable pads. Additionally, ensuring access to clean water, latrines and other sanitary materials to manage menstruation more comfortably and safely is another major focus of UNICEF’s work in Senegal.
With the most recent data from UNESCO showing the literacy rate for Senegalese females aged 15 years and older to be at 39.8%— compared to the male literacy rate for the same age group being 64.8%— there quickly becomes apparent the presence of barriers to education for females. The importance of making access to education easier for the girls and young women of Senegal, then, is critical.
By providing period education, supplies and support, the education and social lives of many girls and women of Senegal do not have to stop for up to one week per month. By making education accessible and comfortable, young girls and women could look toward a better future.
As Kelly Ann Naylor, the UNICEF Director of Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH), does well to point out while discussing the lack of period support around the world, “Investment in menstrual hygiene management will benefit girls today, the women they will become tomorrow, and the next generation.”
UNICEF’s work in Senegal should become the norm if the girls and young women of the world’s developing nations are to pursue their education and social lives without impediment.
– Riley Wooldridge