A new study involving young women in Zimbabwe shows the difference just one menstrual health session can make.
More than 81 percent of the participants in the study were able to better address their menstrual health and hygiene after one session. The session included information on reusable menstrual cups, reusable pads and hygiene, as well as education for caregivers and partners.
The pilot study demonstrates that increased menstrual health education and access to menstrual health products is critical to addressing public health across the world. The impact is particularly important to understand, experts say, in light of Scotland becoming the first country to make all menstrual products free last week.
Zimbabwe is among a handful of African countries to remove value-added tax from sanitary products, but that removal hasn’t lessened the cost burden of buying menstrual products or the stigma many women face.
Researchers wanted to see what kind of choices young women in the low-income areas of the Harare province would make when presented with options and knowledge about menstruation, said Mandikudza Tembo, the study’s lead author.
About 88 percent of participants chose reusable pads, and the remaining percentage chose reusable cups, with the younger age group opting for the pads.
“Young women who aren’t married were especially worried about anything going into the body, which speaks to this community element,” she said.
The results are particularly interesting because the study focuses on a broader age range of young women (ages 16 to 24), whereas most research focuses on school-age girls, according to Marni Sommer, associate professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Sommer, a researcher of menstruation and publisher of puberty books, praised the engaging ways in which the study reached out to its participants, and she appreciated how it was able to deliver information in a way that was culturally competent to the area.
Menstrual products and supplies, such as underwear and soap, toilets with locks, buckets of water and a supportive environment are essential components for people experiencing periods for the first time, she said.
Governments “really need to know what works and what is essential,” she said.
Tembo noted that different ministries of the Zimbabwean government are growing more interested in menstrual health as a sanitation subject and that Auxillia Mnangagwa, the first lady, has shown public interest. Last month, she launched a reusable pads projects to women in need.
The country is slowly progressing with its ability to talk about menstrual hygiene even though it still lags behind some other African nations, Tembo said.
“We’re quite a way away from Scotland, but we’re riding the menstrual wave,” she said. “It’s amazing how many people in Zimbabwe are talking about Scotland. A year ago, it would’ve been a different conversation.”