Ensuring menstrual health for girls with disabilities


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MASERU – While menstrual health is increasingly being recognised as a public health issue linked with human rights and attainment of Sustainable Development Goals, girls with physical impairments say this is a taboo topic for many of them. They say their menstrual health is not recognised as a priority for all persons and that they suffer greater disadvantages in care and support in managing their periods. Visually impaired Reaoboka Mothusi told Public Eye in an interview that many bathrooms in public spaces are inaccessible for wheelchair users and, because of this, they may be forced to change their sanitary pads outside of bathroom stalls or in places without privacy and running water.

She also noted that where the public receives education on menstruation, it is on rare occasions that disabled people are accommodated. “This might be due to the prevalent myth that disabled people have different reproductive systems and do not menstruate,” she said.  Mothusi noted that their caregivers also lack knowledge-based guidance and supportive devices, which impacts negatively on their adequate menstrual health and hygiene practices.

Though the introduction of reusable sanitary pads was aimed at bringing dignity and confidence to many girls, she said girls with disabilities face a greater challenge in managing their menstruation hygienically and with dignity.

“The invention brought so much joy and celebration among women and girls for obvious reason that one buys them once, and go for months with the same pad, making them cheaper than disposables,” she said. However, Mothusi said girls with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, are challenged by maintaining hygiene, especially when water is limited in other areas.

Reacting to the plight of disabled girls and their menstrual health, menstrual health activist ’Mabaene Lerotholi said with physical disabilities menstruation can be challenging for a variety reasons. Some may have difficulties physically managing their own personal care or task related to their periods.

She said achieving menstrual health for every girl means that they have accurate information about menstrual cycle and how to manage it.  “Menstruating girls and women with different types of disabilities may have different needs; those with physical disability may have difficulties placing their sanitary protection materials in the correct position and washing themselves and menstrual materials,” she said, adding that those with visual impairment may face challenges, including not knowing if they would have fully cleaned themselves.

“Some may not fully understand the menstruation process and may not have skills needed to manage their periods.” Lerotholi highlighted that partnering with organisations of women and girls with disabilities can help to identify the needs of women and girls with disabilities and design and adopt to menstrual health programmes to be inclusive.

She said in other developed countries, there are cycle tracking applications for disabled people, where tracking their periods helps them predict their periods. “Tracking is useful to help them better understand their disability in relation to their cycle, understand period, and help them plan around it,” she explained. 

In the forefront to help adolescence attain proper menstrual hygiene in the country is Vodacom Lesotho Foundation, through its Vodacom Dignity Campaign, an initiative which provides girls with reusable, washable, modern and eco-friendly sanitary pads with a lifespan of up to five years.

The telecommunications company aims to ensure that girls have access to safe and hygienic sanitary products, as well as raising awareness around women’s health. The social benefit of the reusable pad stands to greatly mitigate the disadvantages many disempowered girls endure during their process of maturing.

Through this campaign, the company aims to ensure that girls have access to safe and hygienic sanitary products, as well as raise awareness around women’s health.

They help girls reclaim the dignity that poverty and disability denies them and enable them to make a lasting and positive impact on the communities they live in and society as a whole, upon the conviction that when girls and women have health, education, and opportunity, communities and our world are stronger.

According to UNICEF, achieving menstruation health means that all women and girls who menstruate have accurate information about the menstrual cycle and how to manage it hygienically, enabling people to change their materials safely and privately, wash their bodies and materials used.

UNICEF says menstrual health also involves access to medical support for menstrual related disorders and discomfort, including relief and environment free from menstrual related stigma and the ability to participate fully in daily life.  

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