By Iwunze Jonathan
The subject of menstruation remains an issue of gender inequality, especially in low- and middle-income countries with limited menstrual education and little or no access to safe menstrual materials.
Difficulties faced by menstruating females in rural communities are further compounded by taboos and restrictive practices that further widen the gender disparity. The men — whether as brothers, husbands or in-laws — actively participated in expanding this gulf. Iorungwa Targema was one of such men until he saw the light.
In the journal, “A time for global action: addressing Girls’ menstrual hygiene management needs in schools”, Mahon et al observes, “It is suggested that male attitudes are one of the main factors driving the stigmatization and myths surrounding menstruation.
“Recognition and inclusion of the gendered nature of women’s reproductive health is weak, with low priority given to issues of gender equality and positive sexual and reproductive health outcomes resulting in MHM being a neglected issue.”
Jordan Rosenfeld in her article, “Ignorance About Menstruation Puts Women’s Health at Risk”, states, “Bleeding men are revered. Blood spilled in war is heroic and earns men respect; blood brothers show their deep, abiding loyalty with a slash of crimson between palms. That reverence comes to a screeching halt the moment the blood is pouring from between a woman’s legs.”
Thus, part of the reason why taboos and restrictive practices exists and remain ingrained in the hearts of many even in this modern age, is largely owing to the attitudes of men towards the practice.
Because of a lack of menstrual education and awareness to bust these myths and lies surrounding menstruation, ignorance continues to hold sway and age long beliefs and practices remain, even in the hearts of innocent minds.
That was the case with Iorungwa Targema, 41, who lives in Oversea community in Logo LGA of Benue State, Nigeria.
Speaking on misconceptions he had on menstruation, he says: “I come from a community that had many taboos and myths on menstruation, but with the advent of Christianity, they appear to have faded away even though many still hold on to those ideas. It was considered normal practice to avoid women during menstruation as they were not allowed to cook for us or lie on the same bed with their husbands.”
Iorungwa comes from an area that has long been embroiled in conflicts, and in a bid to secure their lands and crops against intruding herdsmen, they must wage war on many fronts. Thus, to be ever ready for warfare, the men believe in the potency of charms to protect them during any of such wars.
Therefore, the avoidance of menstruating women was not optional, they believed, to avoid nullifying the potency of these charms. With this knowledge Iorungwa involuntarily keyed into the widespread mindset. “I would avoid my wife during her monthly flow and would not eat anything she cooked because I thought that was the right thing to do,” he says.
The introduction of the RUSHPIN Programme into rural communities among other things birthed the WASHCOM arrangement, where selected community members formed a committee that served as enforcers of water, sanitation, and hygiene related matters.
Iorungwa was privileged to serve as a WASHCOM member in his community. Thus, advocating for matters relating to health was not new to him. However, the issues regarding stigmas and taboos surrounding menstruation, and how to manage the subsequent health challenges resulting from unhygienic menstrual practices remained alien to him.
Fortunately, the RUSHPIN Programme organized by United Purpose facilitated series of Menstrual Health and Hygiene related activities in communities around Logo area of Benue State, and Iorungwa was part of the exercise.
“It was an eye opener,” says Iorungwa. “The facilitators explained matters in a way that was clear, and the arguments were irrefutable. I had never thought about menstruation that way.” Iorungwa was amongst the select men and women in the community who were earlier trained to make reusable pads, but he never really put the training to use as he didn’t consider it necessary.
As part of his action plan, Iorungwa resolved to utilize his role as a WASHCOM member to enjoin relevant stakeholders at the community level to join his cause in ending the stigmatization of menstruating women and girls. He organizes interactive sessions where he educates the men as to their roles in ensuring their women and girl children have safe and hygienic menstrual practices.
He also now puts the training he had earlier received in making reusable pads to good use. He produces reusable pads and plans to distribute two each to every household in his community for free. Thus, ensuring that the problem of lack of funds to obtain cheap menstrual materials in many households, will have been solved.
Iorungwa’s story is compelling proof that with the right awareness and motivation, males can become advocates in moving forward the MHM agenda and join the fight in breaking the myths around menstruation, take practical steps to support the women in ending stigmatization, and be even willing to go against the crowd for this cause.
Iwunze is a WASH, Solutions and Data Photojournalist