Safe Space and Menstrual Hygiene Management for Primary School Girls

  • Education
  • Women & Gender
  • Youth
  • Ethiopia
This project is led by Hayley Ashkenas, a Volunteer from California

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In rural Ethiopia, there are many myths and misconceptions about menstruation. One common belief is that menstruation is caused by the onset of sexual activity, causing girls and women to be secretive about this healthy biological function. This secrecy builds a web of shame and fear that leads to unhygienic practices, school absenteeism, and further misinformation. This project aims to lift the veil of shame for the girls and women in the local town by constructing a safe space for girls in the primary school, training students and community members to be good allies, and sustainably connecting girls and women with the resources to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity. Our goal is to eliminate gendered barriers to school attendance giving girls new opportunities, increased wellbeing, and greater social and economic power.

Currently, the only available facility is a mixed-gender latrine with no doors, water source, or soap. As a result, many girls are ashamed to manage their periods at school, increasing female absenteeism. A “dignity room” combats this problem by providing female students with a private, girls-only Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) facility. Our MHM Center builds on the same concept, but incorporates three spaces with distinct purposes. One room in our facility will provide soap and water for cleaning Reusable Menstrual Pads (RUMPs) and washing up. A second room will house Girl’s Club meetings and special trainings on MHM and reproductive health, and provide a safe space for girls on campus. Thirdly, the Center will provide a comfortable place to take a short rest if students suffer from cramps. We also plan to install a 2000-liter rainfall catchment tank to help provide water for MHM use and other hygiene and sanitation needs.

Once the facility is constructed, we will use the space to provide three major trainings for both the school and greater community of Siyadebir Kebele. Our trainings will focus on three key areas: distribution and use of RUMPs, community-wide destigmatization of menstruation, and a series of hands-on RUMP-making workshops for local women. Following a partially girl-led MHM and RUMPs education program for students, we’ll work on lifting the taboo of menstruation among community members.

Using school PTA meetings as a venue, specially-trained regional leadership and community influencers will engage parents, teachers and adolescents of both sexes in open dialogue to decrease menstruation-related female absenteeism. Bringing these topics out of the realm of myth and secrecy will help reduce shame and teasing and give girls the support they need to manage their periods comfortably at school. This project has the potential to make a long-term impact on the community. As we build capacity through trainings and awareness-raising, community leaders and students will have the tools to continue and expand on our work in the future. The local school will serve as a model for other communities with similar needs. Regional officials will share their experience with colleagues to promote a similar MHM campaign in other schools of the region. In this way, the project will empower girls and women locally and throughout the region to manage their periods safely and with dignity.

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