Minor field study in Namibia - Bloody Boys by Louise Johansson
Earlier this year we wrote about Louise who did her Master’s thesis in Namibia with our partner organisation Women's Action for Development. Louise has finished her thesis and has graduated from her Master’s program in Global Health at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm! Congratulations Louise!
Louise has kindly enough summarized her thesis exclusively for My Period Is Awesome, read her results and further implications.
Bloody Boys: How are boys included in school sessions on menstrual health in Windhoek, Namibia? By Louise Johansson.
Why should we talk to males about menstruation? Isn’t that a women’s issue? Evidence stands clear; it is crucial to reach boys with knowledge about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (which menstruation is a critical part of!) to advance gender equality. Menstruation has been labelled as a matter ‘only for women and girls’ in exceedingly all learning, but global evidence shows that comprehensive education about SRHR is essential to reach adolescent boys and encourage them to reflect on harmful masculinities.
From a quick Internet search on boys and menstruation, you will find numerous of results saying that boys should be included in education on menstruation and that boys should support menstrual health. Something that struck my mind was, how was this going to be done? And how do boys perceive their role in menstrual health?
I conducted my Master study in Global Health this year together with the Namibian MPIA partner: Women’s Action For Development. I visited schools in township areas in Windhoek as a part of their pilot school training programme. The purpose of the thesis was to understand facilitating factors and barriers towards including boys in educational sessions on menstrual health. This was identified by interviewing boys and trainers along with observing high school training sessions on menstrual health.
It was a clear perception from all the participants that myths and misconceptions about menstruation were current in the Namibian society. When the students learned that menstruation was a normal process, they wanted to be a part of the support they perceived that a male should give towards a female of close relationship. Norms and attitudes of masculinity were both a facilitator and barrier towards boys’ inclusion in menstrual health education. Being a menstrual health supporter is not considered a norm hence boys had to integrate the supporting aspect into their current masculinity norm or dispute the ideal towards a more inclusive form of masculinity.
Being aware of someone’s menstruation and supporting girls was explained by trainers and boys as embracing your role as a man in the society, providing and protecting for your sister, girlfriend, daughter or wife. To be emotionally supportive was associated by both trainers and boy students with being either a homosexual, a ‘moffi’ (in the Namibian context is someone who acts feminine) or transcending into a different gender. Even if buying pads was one of the main things boy students suggested as a way of supporting, buying pads as a guy was much debated. The occurrence of a guy walking into a store, choosing a brand and size of sanitary pads, buying it and then carrying it home from the store, was explained by trainers as something that the boys experiences as something shameful, which would make you less of a man.
There is great potential for continued research on the subject of engaging men and boys in MHM in Namibia, the topic is currently on the global agenda and there is a scarcity of research in the country. I sincerely hope that the Namibian partner organization will get continued funding to keep up their great and important work in schools. I want to thank everyone at Women’s Action for Development and the My Period Is Awesome team in Sweden for supporting my studies!