The HAHA Beat: Why Menstrual Hygiene Education Needs to be Girl-Friendly

Check out why Health and Hygiene Officer Nadia thinks that menstrual education is not "girl-friendly" enough and how SHE is instigating for these changes at the school level:

"With the support of VSO Rwanda, SHE conducted menstrual health and hygiene awareness programs across the Ngoma District within the month of March.

In our Rwandan culture, as in other parts of the world, menstruation is still viewed as a taboo, making it difficult for parents, teachers and children comfortable to tackle the matter in details. Some parents would say nothing at all about menstruation or at the very least, would ask someone else to explain menstruation to their daughters, which has resulted in misinformation about menstruation.

Health and Hygiene Officer Nadia at one of our 8 awareness sessions in the Ngoma District. 
With all this confusion about how to properly manage their period, girls miss up to 3-5 school days each month, while their male colleagues proceed with their studies, thus making our young sisters, future mothers and leaders of Rwanda at risk of falling behind at school, having low marks, and not having the same achievements as their brothers.

Students therefore have to rely on teachers for menstrual hygiene education, but all they learn is about the biological changes that occur with the onset of menstruation. Unfortunately, menstrual hygiene management part is not covered within it. Girls, as well as boys, need to have that information, so they are prepared once menses does begin and to take it easy; and most importantly, to know that menstruation is NOT a disease or is something shameful! This was our overview when we lead these awareness workshops.

The fact is increased access to menstrual hygiene education is needed and it needs to be presented in a child and girl-friendly manner. If it’s not done in a girl-friendly approach, girls will continue to receive incorrect menstrual information. Some of the myths or incorrect information that I heard from the girls include:

"If you sleep with a man while menstruating, you will never have painful periods”


"If you have sex while menstruating, you will never get pregnant"

These girls’ voices are calling out for SHE support. They have the right to know that menstruation is not a disease or a curse as some people believe - it is a normal physiological process the body undergoes.That is why SHE is instigating for increased access to menstrual education and materials at the national level!

SHE is taking the lead to educate girls about MHM through their teachers and parents. Will you join us? Girls are demanding to 'know more!'

I extend gratitude to the Ngoma District and their schools; as a result we were able to provide our MHM awareness workshop to over 1100 students.
I am also most grateful to the girls and their teachers for talking frankly about menstruation in the school setting with us. Girls, we love you, and we believe you deserve to manage your menses healthy and hygienically."

Nadia Hitimana 
Health and Hygiene Officer"

SHE Rockstar of the Month: Health and Hygiene Officer Nadia Hitimana

Nadia (standing at right), SHE's Health and Hygiene officer at a recent training session. 
Photo Credit: Perttu Saralampi

Editor's Note: SHE's Rockstar of the month is also a new addition to the SHE team: our Health and Hygiene Officer Nadia Hitimana. Nadia is also one-half of our HAHA team (Health and Hygiene Advocacy) with our Advocacy and Policy Manager Jackie Mupenzi.

Nadia jumped in feet-first when she joined SHE by leading health and hygiene trainings across eight schools in Kigali. What's up next for Nadia? Leading health and hygiene trainings for the 50+ teachers that are part of our industrial-scale pilot!

Where are you from? 

I am a Rwandese but I was born in Burundi and I have been living in Kigali, Rwanda since August 1994. 

How are you involved with SHE? 

I work as the Health and Hygiene Officer. I am a newcomer, since I just started working here over a month ago, 11th March 2013. 

Why were you compelled to join SHE? 

Prior to joining SHE, I was working at ARC (American Refugee Committee) as a Health Education Coordinator. While working there a colleague and a friend of mine gave me good word about SHE that was working innovatively for better sanitary protection. The key factor that drew me to this team was my desire to participate in the sustainable solutions of addressing menstrual challenges among other health challenges that my young Rwandan sisters are facing in schools – which could hinder their future in one way or another. 

How did you end up working on a field of health education? 

I have been interested in health since I was young. In addition to this, I studied at the Kigali Health Institute, where I specialized in Environmental Health Sciences/Community Health Development and obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Health. 

What have you learned since joining SHE? 

I have been warmly surprised by how my new team members bring up many ideas together and work tirelessly to achieve common goal of sustainable solutions towards addressing menstrual challenges. Since joining SHE, my team spirit has increased a lot! 

How do you like to relax on your spare time? 

I love to read and spend time with my friends. I especially like novels about people who brought change to the world. My favorite book of all time is The Bible. I also enjoy cooking, swimming and taking care of people in general, but particularly children. 

If you could pick one theme song for your life, what would it be? 

Une lettre d’amour by Aime Uwimana. He is a Rwandan gospel singer and I really love his songs among other gospel musicians. 

Breaking the Silence with the Police on the Road to Ngoma

Business Development Officer Sylvere (at left)
Photo Credit: Perttu Saralampi

SHE is getting into an amazing phase of production of our LaunchPads. The pads will be produced in the Ngoma district, more precisely at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Center (IPRC) in the Eastern Region. 

Check out these photos of our production site in Ngoma!

Even the police officers are excited about our LaunchPad!
While on route to delivering our industrial-scale machinery to our production site, our truck was stopped about six times by the Rwanda National Traffic Police.  The police grilled me about what we were carrying in the back of the truck, but I simply responded that, “I am carrying a huge machine to deliver to IPRC East.”  They then asked “What is this machine for?” and I explained that it’s will be used to make KOTEX (Pads) and all them said, “KOTEX making in Rwanda?” And I said “Yes, my company will be producing pads in Rwanda!” I even took advantage of the moment to explain about the taboos associated with menstruation. The most impressive thing that I noticed in them is that they were all interested in hearing more about what we do. So even police officers have some learning to do when it comes to menstruation!

Among the police officers that stopped me along the way, five of the officers were also women. I have since learned that 30% of Rwanda national police are women.  I now wonder how these female officers manage their period while working. Officers are always on the move and sometimes are stationed in areas where they have no access to toilets. 

While during our pilot SHE will be delivering pads to rural school girls, once SHE scales up, we should also consider the needs of our police women too.

By the way, our production site is nearly complete! Everyone that I meet can’t wait to see the LaunchPad, such an innovative product that is being made in Rwanda. Sawa!

- Sylvere
Business Development Officer, Rwanda

The HAHA Beat: Ensuring Girls' Rights in Education

A HAHA (Health and Hygiene Advocacy) Update from Advocacy and Policy Manager Jackie Mupenzi:

SHE was invited to attend the annual kick-off meeting of the Girls' Education Working Group. The meeting was hosted by the Wellspring Foundation in Nyarutarama-Kigali.

We had a chance to interact with all of the stakeholders that are invested in improving girl's education. Members include Plan Rwanda (Co-chair), Girl Hub (Co-chair), Rwanda Girls Initiative in Gashora, FAWE, Care International, National Union of Disabilities, VVOB, ActionAID, EDC, Imbuto Foundation, UNICEF and CHF.

We can't wait to collaborate and stay tuned to see what happens!

The HAHA beat: Periodic (haha) Updates from our Health and Hygiene Advocacy team

While our industrial-pilot is in motion, our HAHA team (Health and Hygiene Advocacy) team is also laying the groundwork to ensure long-term access to menstrual hygiene education and products (including our SHE LaunchPad) .

To make sure you're up-to-date on all things health and hygiene-related, check out our blog for The HAHA Beat. Here's the latest from our Advocacy and Policy Manager Jackie.

Hi all,

It's been an exciting 2 months for the HAHA team! With Nadia on board, we worked together to lead hygiene education and awareness programs across Rwanda in partnership with VSO. 

Jackie (with mic) leading an advocacy awareness session.
Photo Credit: Perttu Saralampi

Our final awareness program at a youth center in Kigali was one of our most memorable events, namely because we invited 15 students from the Duha Complex School in Rwamagana to perform a skit on menstrual hygiene education! 

The Duha students are one of SHE's biggest fans! We trained senior level students and their teachers about menstrual hygiene and they loved our program so much that they even founded their own SHE student club! 

The Duha students provide menstrual and reproductive health education by writing and performing their own skits that are then performed at school and within the community. It was a great to have youths teach each other via acting!

Bridget Mukanyandwi, a teacher at the Duha School, remarked that the budget allocated for pads was insufficient as not all girls can have access to them. She said some students end up using rags because they can't afford pads and the schools don't receive enough pads for use by their students. 

Mukanyandwi said that most children start their periods around their primary five or at age twelve. She also called upon parents to also play a role in telling their daughters about menstruation early enough and not leave to it all to teachers. 

She also noted that some parents, especially in villages, still hold negative cultural perceptions whereby they believe it's a taboo to talk to their daughters about menstrual health, therefore calling upon them to break the silence and educate their children. 

As a much added benefit to raising national awareness, the New Times Rwanda featured our event and an interview with me. Please check it out:

More eyes and ears at the national policy level are on menstrual hygiene education. This is great news!

Thank You,