Maji Safi Group seeks to empower young women in Tanzania to reach their full potential and see them become strong leaders in their communities. However, one of the main obstacles to the educational and professional growth of these young women is the traditionally taboo subject of menstruation.
While most Tanzanians face water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues, there are specific struggles for women surrounding feminine hygiene. Especially in rural communities, menstruation is often surrounded by silence, leading to a lack of education and resources. Millions of girls know very little about their bodies and what happens when they menstruate. There is also a severe lack of access to proper sanitary materials, and available resources are often costly. The lack of resources often forces girls to use many unsanitary options, such as leaves, pieces of a mattress filling, or used cloth.
Schools are an important setting when it comes to menstrual hygiene because the lack of safe and private toilets, clean water for sanitation, and affordable and safe hygiene products prevents girls from safely managing their menstruation. This forces them to chronically miss school and sometimes drop out completely. As a result, these young women face long-term socio-economic and educational effects and sometimes teen pregnancy or social exclusion.
As of 2018, only 44.2 percent of schools in Tanzania had teachers trained on WASH issues, with only 50.8 percent of those teachers providing some type of feminine hygiene products to young girls. Maji Safi Group is committed to helping end these barriers to proper feminine hygiene. But first, we must seek to understand the available resource options and the issues with making them available for these women.
Disposable Pads: These are the most accessible hygiene products for women, but they are also the most expensive over time. Many families do not see the need for them, so it can be hard for girls to convince their families to make the purchase every month. The proper disposal of pads is also a barrier. The pads are often put into pit latrines, causing the latrines to fill up quickly and have a shortened life span.
Reusable Pads: These are harder to find but more cost effective because they can last for a year or two. One barrier with reusable pads is where to dry them. Since menstruation remains such a taboo subject, many do not want these drying openly for others to see. Washing and sanitizing reusable pads also poses a problem due to the lack of clean water.
Tampons: These can be very difficult to find even in urban areas. When they can be found, the barrier women face is twofold: tampons have a high cost monetarily and culturally. Since they are so rare, supply chains charge a high price for tampons, especially in Tanzania. They are also not accepted culturally because of insertion.
Menstrual Cups: These are a great economical option for women. Menstrual cups last 3-5 years. Even though they may be expensive initially, they are a better option over time than disposable or reusable pads. Rural areas have a difficult time getting access to menstrual cups, and there are risks involved if a sterile water source is not available for cleaning. Menstrual cups also face the cultural barrier of having to be inserted.
Moving Forward: Maji Safi Group is committed to providing proper education and access to resources surrounding feminine hygiene. One way they are accomplishing these goals is through Feminine Hygiene Groups where girls age 11-18 meet in after-school groups to learn about hygiene, health, and puberty. Participants in these groups receive reusable sanitary products, such as reusable menstrual pads and menstrual cups.
MSG’s Menstrual Hygiene program is recognized as a founding member of the nationwide menstrual hygiene management coalition in Tanzania. They are committed to improving the supply chain of menstrual products, educating girls and women on feminine hygiene and breaking the silence of the barriers women face during menstruation. The young women in our programs that we continue to reach have bright futures as leaders and change makers, breaking stigmas and barriers surrounding menstruation and not letting this natural process keep them from reaching their goals any longer.