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Gender Minister tells young girls, as Liberia Observes  World Menstrual Hygiene

By: Leila B. Gbati

The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, in collaboration with its partners, recently celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day under the theme “Making Menstruation a Normal Fact of Life by 2030”.

The celebration was held at the Ministry in Congo Town on Friday, May 26, 2023. It brought about 100 girls together, including some panelists who spoke on several menstrual hygiene topics, including: what role does the school play in the lives of adolescent girls during menstruation?

It also considered the importance of menstrual health and hygiene and the roles of the family and community in the life of adolescent menstruators.

The Minister of Gender, Williametta E. Saydee-Tarr, called on girls not to be ashamed of menstruation because of the fact that they give life.

Minister Tarr told the girls that their period is important because, without it, they cannot reproduce as women.

She made these statements on Friday, May 26, 2023, on the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene Day.

In a special statement, Minister Tarr further told the girls that nobody can shame them because they will be shaming themselves.

“I am very happy that the Ministry, through our Adolescent Girl’s Division, envisions having this program. We have had this program for a year, and our top champion is First Lady Clar Marie Weah, who has been making sure you girls look at periods differently and that we can own them, embrace them, and be proud of who we are, not be ashamed because we are bleeding once a month,” she stated.

“For us to make this normalized, we shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it. One of the most important things for all parents is to inform their children about menstruation so that when they grow up, they can see it as a normal situation and will not feel shame. Now we know that we are seeing our menses at an early age, but apart from the fact that we should be proud that we are women and we bleed, we know that life will continue in the world,” she asserted.

The Minister of Gender cautions the girls that before they turn 18 years of age, they are not supposed to have sexual intercourse so that they cannot get pregnant.

She told the girls to be careful with boys as much as they can, emphasizing that if they can abstain from sex, which is one of the most important things because, under the law, they are not women until they are 18 years old, abstinence is very important.

“Nobody says you shouldn’t have conversations with boys, but sex is something that you cannot get involved in until you have passed 18 years of age.” “And even at that, you should be able to take care of yourself because sex comes with responsibility”, she mentioned.

According to her, some of the important things that come to mind about menstrual hygiene, which is a global problem and not only in Liberia, are the issues of period stigma, a multi-faceted approach to tackle the issues, more investment to have programs, and awareness to educate girls on menstrual hygiene, among others.

Statistically, she said over 500 million women around the world have issues with menstrual hygiene, whether it is about shaming, not having access to products when you are menstruating, not having advice, or how to teach you to use your cortex if you don’t know.

“It is a worldwide problem and not only Liberia, which is why everybody is attacking it in their own ways in their country context. Period stigma has a far-reaching effect on all of us. We have to be hygienic about it, so let’s be careful and take care of ourselves when on our period. We all know that change is happening because we can sit down here and have these conversations without shame; everyone can talk about it, and we know that we are moving forward in our community and country so that everyone will know that it is a normal and natural thing for us to embrace it and educate our girls ahead of time so by the time they get to menstruate they know what to expect. More investment is urgently needed, including investing in more opportunities like this so that girls can learn about them, investing, and making sure we get more hygienic material for menstruation that is available to all. We shouldn’t be in a situation where a girl is unaffordable because she cannot afford to get sanitary pads, so we want to be sure that we have sanitary pads available for every single girl and are not leaving one behind. This is something that is important for us at the Ministry, and with partners, local NGOs, and the Office of the First Lady, we will continue working with you all. I hope that you learn a lot here today, and we will be continuing to have conversations so that you will go back into your communities, schools, homes, and wherever you find yourself,” she concluded.

For their part, the girls thanked the Ministry for Gender for the gathering and emphasized that the topics under discussion were important because some of them didn’t know much about menstrual hygiene or why it was important for them to take care of themselves when menstruating.

According to some of the girls, they experienced a lot of changes in their bodies when menstruating, which made them uncomfortable, and even when they are on their period, they feel ashamed to sit around their friends in schools and the community. But with the level of education they have received, they will now be able to take control of their bodies and consider that menstruation is a normal and natural thing for every woman.

The call is on the Ministry of Gender and partners to continue to have these gatherings so that other girls can have the opportunity to partake and understand that menstrual hygiene is important and menstruation is normal. The girls also rally support for sanitary pads and other menstrual materials to be available and affordable for them to use while in school and even at home because it is important and it makes them feel comfortable when menstruating and having the right products to use.

The World Menstrual Hygiene Day is an annual awareness day celebrated globally on May 28 to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management at a global level. It was initiated by the German-based NGO WASH United in 2013 and first celebrated in 2014.

World Menstrual Hygiene Day is being observed on May 28 because menstrual cycles average 28 days in length, people menstruate an average of five days each month, and May is the fifth month of the year.

The day’s celebration is part of ongoing global efforts to break taboos and end the stigma surrounding menstruation, raise awareness about the challenges regarding access to menstrual products, educate about menstruation, and provide period-friendly sanitation facilities.