Words by Paul Taka
Art by Kelvin Kelo Neleta
Menstrual health in the Solomon Islands is one of the topics which is considered taboo and is socially forbidden to be talked about openly. This is especially the case in rural communities. It is, however, one of the major challenges that women and girls in rural communities have to tackle every time they have their monthly period.
Three years ago, I was working on a WASH project (an initiative to increase sanitation in the country) and the following are some of the significant challenges we found through WASH surveys collected from female primary and secondary students, as well as community female mothers and female leaders.
Female students in the rural Solomon Islands don’t have much access to sanitary pads and therefore, during their monthly period they would miss their classes and spend the whole day in the river washing clothes or dirty plates. According to some women, during their monthly period, it is embedded in them to use such time to wash clothes, beddings and kitchen utensils. This is a particularly worrying issue as some told us that these long periods spent in rivers would lead to pneumonia and other cold-related complications.
In classrooms, some young female students told us that they would sometimes stain their clothes as they did not have proper access to sanitary pads. The students get teased by male students which can lead them to stay out of school for fear of being teased. In the rural Solomon Islands, some girls didn’t attend school because of such a situation.
The following are some options young girls use instead during their month period when they cannot afford or access sanitary pads: Some female students use dry leaves, coconut husks, or used cloth rags to manage their period which obviously is not healthy and can cause diseases if they aren’t careful. Others who weren’t comfortable using these chose to spend the whole time in rivers or water taps washing all day long just to manage their monthly period.
Menstrual health remains one of the challenges our young women in rural areas have to face monthly. Breaking the taboo barrier, and educating our young girls and mothers are among the solutions.