Menstrual hygiene: Women call for inclusion in public spaces

Making sanitary pads available in public and office washrooms, improves their accessibility. / File

More women are advocating for access to sanitary products in public restrooms to allow females to menstruate in a healthy and dignified environment.

Menstrual hygiene management is a fundamental right for all women and girls. However, lack of adequate hygiene facilities in schools, workplaces and public spaces has become a burden to maintain normalcy during periods.

Many times, young girls and women have had to improvise in “padding” with toilet tissue, because they didn’t have the supplies with them, which is not only unhealthy but also runs the risk of having blood-stained clothing which could be humiliating.

This daunting experience that women have to grapple with, has of late, inspired an online campaign, where many women are calling for the availability of feminine hygiene products to cater for their needs.

Natacha Mugeni, a health coordinator at Kasha Rwanda, a modern e-Commerce platform for female healthcare and personal care products, told Sunday Times that making sanitary pads available in public and office washrooms, is one way of ensuring that women access them easily whenever in need.

Dorcus Wambui, manager at Riders Lounge in Kigali, agrees that just like tissue paper, soap and hand towels, pads are very essential for hygiene mostly in cases where women are ‘caught off-guard’.

“Nobody has complained to us before, which is why I had never thought about it, but this is something that all managers should consider because menstrual hygiene should be priority. I know women should be prepared but there are those moments that get them off guard in public by their period because sometimes you cannot know exactly they are going to come,” she said.

In such cases of urgency, Mugeni adds, although accessibility is paramount, affordability still stands in the way of breaking this social barrier.

“The big issue with the accessibility is affordability, as there is need to ensure that sanitary pads are affordable and tax exemption could be one big step to ensure this. Sanitary pads are essential products and should be accessible by location but also women should be able to afford them,” she says.

Stella Ituze, one of the women who have since joined in the campaign believes that the high cost of sanitary products is probably one of the reasons behind their inaccessibility.

“This is another problem on its own and I think the country should take it upon itself to remove these taxes.

I think there is a little dishonesty in that notion, because I do not think these products are not made available simply because they cost a little more. The same people will spend money on towels and soaps which are equally pricey.

Secondly, if you count the number of toilet paper rolls used per day, especially when someone is menstruating and needs it out of urgency, the number will be no different if not higher than toilet paper,” she says.

In August 2013, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) passed a resolution urging all partner states to waive taxes on sanitary pads so as to increase their availability and affordability for young girls, but it has not yet been implemented.