Dispelling myths about menstruation

Health Matters with Thandeka Moyo
ONE of the most popular misconceptions about menstruation that we subscribed to as we grew up was the fear that sharing clothes “transmits” period pain from one person to the other.

Not that sharing of clothes is commendable but I feel silly because I too at one point believed that I could get period pains from sharing skirts and trousers with my sisters.

We recently joined the rest of the world in commemorating international Menstrual Hygiene Management Day hence the reason we should all be cool with discussing menstruation and sanitary wear. After all, it’s just a period!

Menstrual hygiene day falls on May 28 annually and aims to break taboos and raise awareness about the importance of good menstrual hygiene management for women and adolescent girls worldwide.

Menstrual hygiene experts from SNV Netherlands Development Organisation took to the streets and joined hands with Luveve Salvation Army Church to raise awareness around such issues.

“There are a lot of misconceptions around menstruation. For starters, it’s a normal process that every woman goes through in their lifetime therefore we must be all comfortable to discuss it,” said Ms Samantha Makiwa, who is also a midwife.

“Dysmenorrhoea, which we all know as period pain is the muscle activity that occurs during menstruation. Unlike what many believe, it cannot be transmitted by sharing clothes or anything as that has never been proven scientifically.”

She said menstruation is controlled by hormones hence every experience varies with every woman or girl.

“Period pains are characterised by debilitating pain experienced in the lower abdomen, cramps and backaches. It is usually severe within the second and third day of menstruating and wears off towards the end of the period,” she said.

Ms Makiwa added that period pains are caused by the contraction and retraction of uterus muscles as it sheds off the inner lining of the uterus.

“Women must sleep when they experience these pains but engage in exercises to distribute the muscle activity. Other home remedies would be to take warm beverages like ginger, cinnamon, ginger teas and warm baths. They can also do compressions with hot water bottles as these remedies relax muscle activity,” she said.

According to Ms Makiwa, women can have their first period from as early as nine years of age up to 19 years.

“We have dealt with people who believe that an early period is a sign that someone is already having sexual intercourse with boys. Some believe that those who start their periods late are cursed but the onset of a period ranges from nine to 19 and such cases are considered to be normal.”

She said people must remember that periods are controlled by hormones hence it is possible to have an onset when one is very happy or sad.

“On the issue of sanitary wear, we discourage the use of cow dung, pieces of material or newspapers. There are some cultures who still say women must extend their labia to hold the blood during menstruation and the practice exposes women to infections,” said Ms Makiwa.
Commendable sanitary wear includes pads and tampons.

“To those who cannot buy disposable pads, we encourage them to use the ramp (reusable menstrual pads) which they can make for themselves. They can also use the disposable ones though they have to ensure they change pads after about three to four hours of use,” she said.

Ms Makiwa said despite what many believe, tampons are good for use although they are not recommended for virgin teenagers.

“I also think it’s important that women understand the issues around menopause. We have seen a lot of women aged 40 to 45 falling pregnant because they thought they had reached menopause. Menopause can start as early as 35 upwards but women must be 100 percent sure they have started menopause before they stop taking contraceptives. They may miss a period for six months and that is not a guarantee that they have started menopause.”

Ms Makiwa encouraged women to stay clean during menstruation.

“Temperatures normally go up and it is necessary that women take a number of baths to stay fresh. We encourage schools to ensure that they have bins where girls can dispose of used pads.”

Menstrual hygiene activist Ms Lindile Ndebele said its time families, churches and schools freely talk about menstruation.

“So many girls fail to go to school during their menses because they do not have sanitary wear. Our policies need to ensure that every school toilet has a bin or incinerator where girls can freely dispose of the used towels which will make the environment more conducive,” said Ms Ndebele.

“The reason why we targeted the church is because people still believe in the church and are likely to take anything promoted at church. We are also aware that in the church, people from different backgrounds and professions are found”.

She said members of the public should desist from practising religious acts that belittle or dehumanise women during their menstruation period.

“Churches bring different people together and because religious structures are sometimes problematic, we wanted to break the silence from here. There are some religious practices that make women seem unclean when menstruating but even Jesus was touched by a woman with the issue of blood and did not sideline her as He understood that it is natural and part of every woman’s life,” said Ms Ndebele.

Both Ms Makiwa and Ms Ndebele said every church, school and household must have a first aid kit with pads for emergencies.

I hope this will help debunk misconceptions we have and ensure we open up to help our girls and women.

| The Chronicle

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