At an event launched on Thursday, youth between the ages of 14 and 24 were invited to come forward with innovative ideas on tools, models and services to enable girls and women to manage menstruation.
The event, titled Generation Unlimited, is part of the United Nations’ Youth 2030 Strategy and was hosted by Unicef and the School of Leadership.
Many adolescent girls in Pakistan miss school every month when on their period because they lack knowledge, access to proper facilities and supplies to manage their menstruation in a hygienic way.
Generation Unlimited draws on the expertise of young people, representatives from governments, multilateral organisations, the private sector and civil society to inspire urgent investment in education, skills training and empowerment for the rapidly growing global population of adolescents and young people (10-24), which will reach two billion by 2030.
The Youth Challenge is taking place in 16 countries worldwide, including Pakistan. The goal is to provide every young person with quality education, training or employment by 2030.
The contest, which is open to Pakistani nationals aged between 14 and 24, encourages the design of solutions that are scalable and promote participation of women through improved menstrual hygiene management (MHM) as adolescent girls in Pakistan are often unaware or unprepared for the onset of menstruation, which affects their self-esteem, personal development, education and mobility.
In countries like Pakistan where the working-age population grows larger than the dependent population, there is a potential for a demographic dividend, and when the population is constructively employed, the overall productivity rises, standards of living improve and investment in human capital increases.
Unicef representative in Pakistan Aida Girma said: “Young people are some of the best inventors, creators and innovators we can find in the world. We hope that this challenge will encourage Pakistani youth to come up with innovative ideas and help tackle some of the pressing challenges which young people face today, starting with menstrual hygiene for girls.”
Thewodros Mulugeta, Unicef Water, Sanitation and Hygiene specialist, said: “The focus is to work around employability, to enhance their skills so they can work with the youth of their community so they can empower their girls because they are marginalised.”
Sana Mehmud, the captain of Pakistan’s women basketball team, said: “The main reason for having us on board is that we also go through the same menstrual cycle and we’re comfortable in our sports.
“As athletes when we speak to young girls at events, they’re surprised. Girls irrespective of backgrounds are hesitant to say they are on their period. Instead they say that they are sick. Hardly any girls get any pre-period talk. Most of them have thought that it’s ulcers, cancer or odd bleeding.”
Pakistan’s women football team captain Hajra Khan said: “We’re busting myths about how you can play sports even when you’re on your period.”
Saba Khalid, who won the MHM challenge last year and will mentor winners of this challenge, said: “We weren’t prepared for questions on MHM when we interacted with the youth. But it’s good that the conversation has started on reproductive health and menstrual hygiene. It starts with the idea that ‘I can do it’. I feel it’s very important and it should lead to long-term change. If there’s support, it can become something big.”
Originally published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018