On MH Day 2019 the African Coalition for MHM hosted a panel discussion under the question: What has changed in menstrual hygiene management in Africa? It was attended by First Lady of Kwale County H.E. Christine Ndegwa, Member of Parliament in Zimbabwe Hon. Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Chairperson of the Queen’s Trust in Lesotho Chieftainess ‘Malerotholi Mathealira Seeiso, Chief Director of Social Empowerment and Participation in the South African Department of Women Dr Ntsiki Manzini-Matebula, CEO of The FootPrints Foundation Eric Mlambo, and United Nations Volunteer Cleopatra Okumu.
Held around the first anniversary of the formation of the African Coalition for MHM (ACMHM), and in the same year as the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development and the 50th anniversary of the UNFPA, the discussion provided plenty of opportunity for reflection. Opening the discussion, moderator and UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Director, Dr Julitta Onabanjo, highlighted that these anniversaries are windows of opportunity for innovations and advancing the MHM agenda and emphasised the need to be strategic with the cross-sectoral nature of the MHM topic.
Following these opening remarks, a presentation by MH Day international secretariat WASH United’s Ina Jurga highlighted the policy landscape for menstrual hygiene. Her presentation included reports that policy decisions have been made in various countries to remove or reduce taxes on menstrual products, and emphasised a need to regulate the quality of products to adhere to critical benchmarks such as health and dignity. The full presentation is available to read here.
From these opening presentations, the following key recommendations were made:
- There is a need to broaden the focus on MHM beyond schools, including out-of-school girls, workplaces and other institutions to ensure MHM is addressed throughout life
- Ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to MHM
- Identify and use champions for advocacy and policy influence
Answering the question ‘What has changed in menstrual hygiene management in Africa?’ the panel discussion made clear that tremendous progress has been made, including the formation of the African Coalition for MHM in 2018, but much needs to be done. The formation of new partnerships and strengthening of existing ones is a priority to enable joint advocacy and to address the significant remaining challenges such as inequalities, discriminatory practices and social norms, policy instability, health and humanitarian crises and climate change, among others.
Some questions raised during the discussion covered the need for radical advocacy for free menstrual products, calls for a holistic approach to MHM encompassing facilities, nutrition, pain management and more, and the collaboration opportunities afforded by the cross-sectoral nature of MHM. It was also noted that outside of South Africa no budgetary allocations have been made for the making of policy decisions, although advocacy is underway for increased commitments.
Concluding the dialogue, the following key recommendations were summarised by Dr Julitta Onabanjo:
- Silos must be broken and existing and new collaborative partnerships must be strengthened
- Partnerships are crucial for joint advocacy, collaboration and accountability
- Policies must be in place but they must also be jointly implemented across sectors
- MHM programmes must be brought to scale and integrated with SRHR programmes because MHM is not a standalone issue
- Accountability must be strengthened, including social accountability through working with communities and other governance structures with multi-sectoral settings
- Menstrual products must be made available to those who need them, and therefore continued advocacy for providing choice is needed
- Countries must invest in the development and implementation of menstrual product standards
Following the conclusion of the event as a whole, the following key recommendations have been identified:
- There is a need to study and document how Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have incorporated policy efforts and decisions into their respective monetary polities, and to track implementation with strengthened advocacy and calls for social accountability
- Consideration and advocacy are needed for a model law or regional policy guidance on MHM in SADC and/or Africa to enhance leadership and commitments from governments
- Social protection and comprehensive sexuality education programmes can be explored as avenues for MHM, while ensuring the inclusion of people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups
- MHM advocacy and education messages must be standardised and the language used needs to be inclusive, contextual and gender transformative in order to encourage male participation, the use of local champions and the media
- Scalability of MHM programming is critical and needs to be informed by data and evidence
- There is an urgent need to strengthen partnerships with political and religious leaders, the private sector and the media
- There is a need to work with the regional economic communities for the alignment of standards, taxation policies and to facilitate inter-trade dialogues
- There are many opportunities for creativity and innovation for knowledge management, capacity development and strengthening partnerships