Bringing Women and Girls Closer to Dignified Menstrual Health Management
News08 March 2019
Photo credit: East Africa Group 2018
Every month millions of women and girls around the world face the challenge of managing their menstrual period without clean, convenient, comfortable sanitary products. In Tanzania, estimates suggest 85% of girls resort to unhygienic solutions, most commonly strips of cloth, which are difficult to keep clean and more likely to spread fungi and infection, or leak blood onto the user’s clothes. The potential humiliation that results, plus inadequate water and sanitation facilities in schools, results in thousands of school girls missing school due to menstruation.
Global campaigns to improve menstrual hygiene management (MHM) have gathered pace in recent years but policy changes by national governments have been slow in coming. In 2017, the Kenyan government introduced free pads for girls in primary school, raising the bar for political intervention. Development bodies and campaign groups in Tanzania were already calling for reforms. Though free pads for school were rejected as unaffordable, cross-party support was built for the wider issue, especially within the Tanzania Women’s Parliamentary Group.
The Tanzanian Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), a leading gender CSO, saw an opportunity to campaign to further galvanise support for MHM with parliamentarians and policy makers. TGNP in turn called upon experts at Institutions for Inclusive Development (I4ID), a programme funded by Irish Aid, for technical support on the advocacy strategy.
I4ID was invited to chair an informal coalition of actors working on different aspects of MHM. The coalition agreed to pursue a focused, tactical approach, centered initially on securing a VAT exemption on pads, and concentrating advocacy activity around International Menstrual Hygiene Day. The I4ID team engaged with parliamentarians, civil servants and development partners and equipped MPs with precise information about the cost and potential impact of the VAT exemption. BBC Media Action, one of I4ID’s consortia partners, produced two radio programmes focused on menstrual health management.
By the time International Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD) arrived support was far-reaching. A social media campaign had hundreds of thousands of supporters. More than 45 MPs, plus a handful of Tanzania’s most senior politicians, attended the MHD celebrations in Dodoma. A female MP raised the issue in parliament, securing a meeting with the Minister of Finance. The following week the Minister for Finance announced the removal of VAT on sanitary pads during his 2018/ 19 budget speech.
The cost of some brands of sanitary pads immediately fell and further price reductions are expected as markets adjust, demand rises and distribution channels improve. I4ID is now working with product companies to invest in marketing and distribution, to improve access, affordability and product awareness, and ensure lower prices are implemented by retailers.
Significant barriers to safe menstrual hygiene management remain, but the success of the VAT campaign has demonstrated MPs’ responsiveness to inclusive campaigning and focused advocacy and campaigners are hopeful that their commitment will yield further concrete policy changes that help women manage their periods safely and with dignity.
I4ID is funded by Irish Aid and UKAid since 2017