Cameroon is observing World Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28) with caravans visiting schools and public spaces to educate people about social taboos that women should not be seen in public during their menstrual periods. Organizations are also donating menstrual kits to girls displaced by terrorism and political tensions in the central African state.

Scores of youths, a majority of them girls, are told that menstruation is a natural part of the reproductive cycle.

Officials in Cameroon’s social affairs and health ministries say the monthly flows are not a curse. Girls and women should never be isolated from markets, schools, churches, and other public places because of their menstrual cycle.

The government of the Central African state says it invited boys to menstrual health day activities because boys often mock girls in schools when they see blood dripping on their legs or skirts.

Tabe Edwan is the spokesperson of Haven of Rebirth Cameroon, an association that takes care of victims of sexual and gender-based violence. She says she participates in activities to mark World Menstrual Health Day to battle taboos about menstruation that persist in Cameroon.

"We are looking at instances of stigmatization such as prohibition from cooking, prohibition from attending religious ceremonies or visiting such spaces," she said. "Most often a young girl who is having her menstrual flow is considered to be unclean and so anything that she touches becomes unclean or it also becomes contaminated."

Cameroon’s government says World Menstrual Day activities took place in many towns and villages, especially in the northwest and southwest regions, where a separatist conflict, now in its seventh year, has displaced about 750,000 people.

The country’s Social Affairs Ministry says displaced women and girls have lost nearly everything and lack even the $2 needed to buy sanitary pads each time they are on their monthly cycle.

Mirabelle Sonkey is the founder of the Network for Solidarity Hope and Empowerment and a founding member of the International Menstrual Hygiene Coalition.

Sonkey says she is disheartened when women and girls use rags, paper tree leaves, or just anything unhealthy to stop blood flow because they cannot afford sanitary pads.

"We usually give about 1,000 dignity kits which include buckets, soap, pants, and reusable, washable menstrual pads," she said. "We are still advocating for pads to be free. Our mission is to have an environment where pads will be accessible, that is why we are opening pad banks now where vulnerable women and girls can go there and have pads."

Sonkey pleaded with donors to provide sanitary pads to give to several thousand northern Cameroonian girls and women displaced by Boko Haram terrorism.

Cameroon’s government says 70% of menstruating women and girls lack access to regular basic sanitation products. Still, it has not reacted to pleas from NGOs to distribute sanitary pads free of charge.

The Central African state’s officials say families and communities should help end stigmas by openly discussing menstrual flow and letting everyone know that menstruation is a normal and natural biological function.

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