My Period is Awesome: The Fight to Make Menstruation a Normal Fact of Life in Cameroon
By Boris Esono Nwenfor
BUEA, May 18, 2023 – For many girls across Cameroon, getting their period means staying home from school, exposure to negative social stigma, and the risk of significant health issues all because they don’t have access to safe sanitary products. Worse still, with the present socio-political crisis in the South West and North West Regions, the situation has been made complex.
Menstruation remains a taboo subject and presents many challenges for adolescent girls in Cameroon and in other African countries. Cultural taboos about menstruation also harm the dignity, school participation and health of teenage girls. This year’s menstrual hygiene day will be celebrated on Sunday, May 28 under the theme: “Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030.”
In some communities, women and girls are still stigmatised when they are having their period. They are forbidden from cooking, livestock, socialising, and attending church, and some are subjected to sleeping in separate rooms even though they are married. Their mobility and participation are also restricted.
The good news is that in Cameroon and across the continent, there are a great many activists and advocates working to raise awareness of period poverty and how it affects women and girls.
One organization in Cameroon fighting to make menstruation a normal fact of life is the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA. The non-governmental organization is running a campaign that aims at reaching plus 300 vulnerable women and girls, within various communities in Buea, and across the South West that are host communities for IDPs with particular needs.
Throughout this campaign, CHRDA will be visiting communities to raise awareness of menstrual hygiene to reduce the stigma surrounding menstruation, distribute menstrual products and increase men’s and boys’ involvement in ending menstrual stigma. As a recommendation, CHRDA says women and girls should adopt the prescribed hygiene management methods, especially concerning the management of menstrual waste.
“There are many more women and girls who need sanitary kits than the quantity we brought, and it is frustrating,” said Feka Parchibel, Coordinator of the NGO Hope for the Vulnerable and Orphans.
“You see women who use rags, papers, who use just anything unhealthy to stop that blood flow at that particular moment. It has made women and girls lose their dignity. Our wish is for the government to subsidize the cost of these sanitary pads, so why not make them free? If they (the government) can give condoms for free why can’t they give sanitary pads, too, for free at least to young girls.”
While global data on period poverty and its impacts are lacking, one widely cited statistic attributed to UNESCO says 1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school because they don’t have access to menstrual products or because there aren’t adequate toilets to use at school. Others will drop out of school altogether.
Women and girls across the continent already experience discrimination based on gender across all areas of life, and taking care of their menstrual health and hygiene — a perfectly normal part of life — simply shouldn’t be yet another discrimination to be faced.