It is estimated that more than one billion people around the world have a disability. Of this number, UNICEF observes, “women and girls are more likely to have a disability, facing a 19 percent probability rate versus 12 percent for men and boys. According to a 2017 report by the United Nations Secretary-General on the situation of women and girls with disabilities and the status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), women and girls with disabilities were expected to achieve the 700 million worldwide by 2015.
Worldwide, menstruation is a monthly occurrence for some 1.8 billion girls and women of reproductive age, according to UNICEF statistics. Undoubtedly, dozens of disabled women and girls in the impoverished suburbs and rural areas of Nigeria are among these figures.
In many of these rural areas, taboos associated with menstruation, combined with a general culture of silence around the issue, limit the ability of women and girls to participate fully and equitably in society, undermining their overall social status and status. your self esteem.
Disability also carries a stigma, so disabled people can face layers of discrimination when they are menstruating. A 2019 UNICEF systematic review of menstrual hygiene management requirements, barriers and strategies for people with disabilities found that the challenges of menstruation were a source of embarrassment for girls and women with disabilities, with consequences such as Social isolation.
However, with appropriate interventions aimed at changing the narrative of the rural woman and the disabled girl menstruating, NGOs are promoting MHM education to enable disabled women to manage their menstruation hygienically and with dignity.
Mirabel Odey, 26, lives in the Bebekanyak community in the city of Sankwala, in the Obanliku LGA of Cross River State. For Mirabel, her childhood, while full of happy memories, as she was born into a loving family, was not like that of any other child.
Ella mirabelle was born with a congenital limb defect, a condition in which a child is born with a malformed limb. In Mirabel’s case, she was born with a left half arm and her left leg developed to the knees as an amputee.
“I had moments during childhood where I felt left out, unable to participate in all the activities that characterize the average life of a growing child,” she said Mirabel. Furthermore, there were times when she felt lonely and sad because she could not explain why she had to be different from the average child.
Mirabel was born into a community riddled with myths, tales, and taboos about menstruation. A world where menstruation was not openly discussed as ignorance ruled. And being a girl, she came with many disadvantages, especially when it comes to menstruation.
Finally menarche came and “I was scared,” she recalls Mirabel. “I hadn’t experienced anything like that before and didn’t know what she was.” Fortunately, she was able to get a lot of support and guidance from her older sisters, who helped her through the process.
When she asks if she normally needs help controlling her periodic menstrual flow, she says she proudly. “I handle everything myself and I don’t need any help.”
Mirabel may have received timely assistance during the menstrual process, but the challenge of breaking the silence remained a struggle.
Fortunately, the RUSHPIN Program organized by United Purpose, facilitated Menstrual Health Hygiene (MHH) activities in the communities of Obanliku LGA, Cross River, State. And her community benefited from the awareness campaign and training.
In recounting how she personally benefited from the exercise, she acknowledged that her knowledge of menstruation had greatly improved. For the first time, she learned about reusable pads and the hygienic preservation process. She no longer had to spend money on expensive commercial sanitary pads or use cloths that were hardly convenient during the menstrual process.
Part of her determination was to spread the word from now on to each and every one, including her brothers and the men of the community. Her educating them about her role in the fight to end the stigma and taboos around menstruation. She would regain her pride as a menstruating woman.
Mirabel was among the community women and girls who were later commissioned as Menstrual Health Hygiene Management (MHM) Ambassadors, an army of enthusiastic women eager to break the silence about menstruation.
Mirabel’s story is, without question, compelling proof that there is capacity in every disability. And people living with disabilities can be a powerful force for change in society, if they have the willpower to live without limits.
Visually impaired and menarche
For 19-year-old Ofada Eunice, who lives in the village of Bayalele, a rural community in Cross River State’s Obanliku LGA, her story is different.
Blind from birth, one can only imagine what life was like for her as a child. “When she was a child,” she says, “it was not easy to adapt to the system, as there were always fears and uncertainties within. Without my eyes, I had to depend on others to help me with everything. I felt like a burden to everyone around me. Life was not pleasant. “
Eunice comes from a community that has traditions that fostered the stigmatization of menstruating women, one that forcibly instills low self-esteem in women and girls.
With these stigmas and taboos, the world became darker than it already was from her perspective.
It is in this context that Eunice began menstruating at the age of 15. She told us about her first experience: “I was scared, I didn’t know what to do because I just felt that my private part was unusually wet, since I couldn’t. I do not see to identify the cause. It wasn’t just water, it was thicker. And it just wouldn’t stop flowing. ” Eunice was happy that her mother was home and helped her wash and pad herself with some fabric materials. That was the beginning of her journey to femininity.
The stigma surrounding menstruation wasn’t the only challenge Eunice endured. Being blind from birth, she did not have the privilege of receiving formal education, as she came from a poor family that could not afford to send her to a school for children with special needs. Therefore, gaining knowledge about menstrual health and hygiene management was an unlikely luxury.
With the introduction of the RUSHPIN program in rural communities, the women and girls of Bayalele village achieved beneficial enlightenment thanks to the training and awareness campaign. She addressed questions about breaking barriers and taboos around menstruation, spreading the word, and using reusable sanitary pads that are cost-effective and can be hygienically maintained.
However, she Eunice could not be part of the initial beneficiaries given the limitations that she had due to her disability. Therefore, to ensure that no one is left behind, including the disabled, the facilitators made a special arrangement for the exclusive benefit of disabled women and girls like Eunice.
At that time, Eunice was the only disabled woman in town. Therefore, a special session was organized in which she received all the value of the training. Speaking about how she benefited from the awareness campaign, Eunice says: “Now I will not let my disability keep me from taking pride in the menstruation cycle. Now I know how to handle it better without shame. “
Although still physically blind, Eunice has a different perspective on life. Eunice can see with her mind’s eye and overcome deeply ingrained cultural stigmas and taboos that have long been revered by generations of ignorant minds.
The stories of Mirabel and Eunice, however, only represent the experiences of an insignificant fraction of disabled women and girls who were privileged to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Sadly, millions of people never experience these interventions in their lifetime. For others, unaware of the existence of these interventions, they seem to make peace with their state of existence.
In its magazine titled, “Guidance Note: Menstrual Health and Hygiene for Girls and Women with Disabilities,” UNICEF notes, “Inaccessible water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in communities, schools, healthcare facilities and public places they add to the long list of barriers that prevent girls and women with disabilities from fully participating in social and economic life. The lack of disabled accessible WASH facilities is also a barrier for girls with disabilities to attend school ”.
Also, the needs of menstruating girls and women with different types of disabilities may differ. People with physical disabilities in the upper body and arms may find it difficult to place their sanitary supplies in the correct position and to wash themselves, their clothes and menstrual supplies.
Those with visual impairments (blind or low vision) may not know if they have been fully cleaned, and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities may need accessible, easy-to-read materials designed to help them communicate about pain and their needs and needs. to learn about MHH.
Education and support from MHH are critical to reaching girls with disabilities. It is often assumed that girls with disabilities do not menstruate, so education is key to dispelling myths about menstruation and disability.
To effectively guarantee the realization of SDG targets 3.7 and 5.6, which imply access to sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights for all persons with disabilities, the opinions of voiceless women and girls who live must be involved. with disabilities.
Inclusion of women and girls with disabilities and partnering with organizations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) throughout the MHH programming cycle will help identify the needs of women and girls with disabilities and design or adapt MHH programs to be integral.
Taking a systematic and sectoral approach, a new Education Sector Plan in Liberia includes a subcomponent that ensures that facilities for MHM and infrastructure for students with disabilities are considered in the design of WASH programs, school-based training and improvement planning. school. Similarly, a WASH school initiative in Ethiopia includes MHM as a primary focus, as part of its overall goal of improving girls’ school enrollment and attendance. Such partnerships between the World Bank and client governments have succeeded in moving the needle on MHM at the national level.
These interventions can also be felt at the local level when policies that should focus on rural WASH issues, as well as the needs of rural women and girls with disabilities, become a national priority.
The inclusion of disabled girls should be taken into account in the implementation of designs for state-owned schools in rural areas. Currently, the number of schools for people with special needs in Nigeria is very limited and the majority are located in the urban areas of Nigeria.
Eunice mentioned earlier that she wished for the opportunity, like all children, to receive an education. Regardless of your family’s financial situation, that wish could have been a dream come true if the focus had been on ensuring that rural areas are the center of attention to benefit from the interventions available to help the disabled girl gain access. Free to both menstrual education and education so that you can manage your menstruation in a hygienic and dignified manner.
Access to a safe and dignified period is essential for all menstruators. Women and girls, especially in rural areas, face stigma and exclusion due to menstruation. Girls with disabilities often face double discrimination, both because of their gender and because they have a disability. They have capabilities and vulnerabilities, so they face considerable challenges on a daily basis.
With more inclusive MHH programming and the support of national bodies such as government agencies and NGO interventions in rural communities, women and girls with disabilities can be empowered to manage their menstruation in a dignified and healthy way.
This is an important step in safeguarding the dignity, bodily integrity and general life opportunities of women and girls with disabilities in rural areas.