PCW, PUP and private sector partners hold forum on menstruation and menopause

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), in partnership with the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), DDB Group Philippines and Modess, observed the Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28 through a forum, which aims to debunk myths and misconceptions on menstruation and menopause. 

Held at the Bulwagang Balagtas in PUP Sta. Mesa, the forum titled “From Womb to Tomb: Forum on Women’s Health,” gathered around 320 individuals from schools, universities and colleges, government agencies, non-government organizations, and communities. The forum became an avenue to discuss the physiology and effects of menstruation and menopause – the two normal phases in a woman’s life cycle that are least discussed in Filipino homes. 

In her opening remarks, PCW Executive Director Emmeline L. Verzosa emphasized that proper education is a key in breaking the misconceptions on menstruation and menopause. Persistent stigma on these life phases brings so much embarrassment, fear, anxiety and depression among women and girls.

“We still have a lot of work to do in shaping the minds of the people – women and men alike — about menstruation and menopause. May this activity spark a change in each of us.  Our mission is to spread the word in our families, workplaces, schools and communities. The stigma continues until we correct it and break the myths about it,” she said.

Meanwhile, DDB Group Philippines Chief Culture Officer, Anna Chua-Norbert called on everyone to understand why it is important to get the right education about periods if they care about their female friend, sister, daughter, wife, cousin, mom, aunt, niece, girlfriend, and about 51% of Filipino population. 

“The stigma and shaming of women should end today. Menstruation is nature’s way of ensuring human kind will continue to exist, and the fight to provide basic needs like clean water, toilets in the schools and no taxes on sanitary napkins is a gender issue, #MenstruationMatters to humanity,” she said.

Resource persons to the forum are Dr. Natasha Esteban from the Philippine General Hospital Adolescent Medicine; Dr. Soledad Natalia Dalisay, Chair of the Department of Anthropology of the UP Diliman College of Social Sciences and Philosophy; and Dr. Carmen Quevedo, Past President of the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS).

Myths and misconceptions on menopause debunked

Traditions and beliefs about menstruation, which have been passed from one generation to another, persist until today thus affecting a girl’s life including their education, health, economics, dignity and participation. Below are some of the myths and misconceptions debunked by Dr. Esteban:

Myth: Stepping on animal waste (poop) can cause menstruation to have foul odor
Fact: Menstrual blood serves as medium for bacteria and may cause bad odor, skin irritation or urinary tract infection. Thus, change your sanitary pads every four hours to avoid increase in bacteria.

Myth: Exercise or lifting anything heavy is not advisable for menstruating girls or young women as this may cause heavy flow.
Fact: Exercise is good for menstruating women and girls as it helps prevent dysmenorrhea and menstrual cramps.

Myth: Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is not real and is all in the mind.
Fact: Many women experience migraine, headaches, stomach cramps, diarrhea, dysmenorrhea at sweating during the days before menstruation. When these symptoms happen month after month, and they affect a woman’s normal life, they are known as PMS.

Myth: Taking medicine for menstrual cramps makes one immune to pain.
Fact: Taking ibuprofen or mefenamic acid at first sign of pain and for 1-2 days will actually relieve pain and will not make one immune to pain. In summary, Dr. Esteban reminded young women and girls that good menstrual hygiene leads to good reproductive health. This can be achieved by managing menstrual flow to prevent soiling, maintaining proper hygiene and cleanliness, eating a balanced diet and maintaining an active lifestyle while avoiding stress and tension.

Managing menstrual health in times of conflict and disasters

Managing menstrual health in times of conflict and disasters has long been overlooked in developing and implementing programs on disaster risk reduction and response. Misconceptions on menstruation such as menstrual pollution, silence, shame and stigma makes it difficult for women and girls to talk about it in public.

According to Dr. Dalisay, understanding menstrual health management in times of disaster and conflicts is important as it enables women and girls to continue living their lives with dignity even under a state of emergencies.

One of the ways to manage menstrual health in emergency situations, according to her, is by providing adequate resources and facilities for women and girls such as private wash areas, proper waste disposal facilities with safety and security mechanisms to eliminate gender-based violence. She likewise emphasized the importance of including sanitary napkins, clean underwear, feminine wipes and cloths in the “go bags” and relief packs, to address this practical  needs of women and girls.

Do not be afraid to face menopause

Aside from menstruation, menopause has long been associated with derogatory descriptions such as “irate, emotional and short-tempered.” These remarks bring fear and sadness among women who are about to enter menopausal stage. 

In her discussion, Dr. Quevedo likened menopause to a roller coaster ride that gets steeper and more erratic, and sometimes feels like out of control. But menopause can become an enjoyable phase when it is faced with proper knowledge and habits. 

According to Dr. Quevedo, the key to overcome the lingering effects of menopause is by recognizing its signs and symptoms and its effect on one’s lifestyle, adopting a preventive health or lifestyle program, availing proper medical treatment, having social interaction, emotional support and spiritual guidance.

Dr. Quevedo likewise broke misconceptions on menopause and clarified some beliefs, as follows: 

Myth: The last day of your menstruation marks the beginning of your menopause.
Fact: One has to wait for a year from the final menstruation before she considers herself menopause.

Myth:Girls who had their menstruation at an early age will also menopause early.
Fact:Menarche has nothing to do with menopause. Menopause is genetically predetermined. One of the best predictors to determine the age of menopause is the age of your mother and sisters when they entered menopause.

Myth:Women should stop having sex with their partners when they reach menopause.
Fact:Sex is essential in helping women fight vaginal dryness.

Myth: Undergoing hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) causes cancer and heart attack.
Fact:When introduced at the right time, HRT reduces the risk of ailments caused by estrogen deficiency. The best time to undergo HRT is during the first five years after menopause. It is no longer advisable for women aged 60 and above and those whose menopause occurred more than 10 years ago to undergo HRT.

The “From Womb to Tomb: Forum on Women’s Health” is part of the country’s initiative in line with the annual observance of the Menstrual Hygiene Day and International Day of Action for Women’s Health on May 28. 

Said activity is likewise anchored on the Magna Carta of Women (MCW) provision which calls for a comprehensive, gender-responsive and culture-sensitive health services and programs covering all stages of a woman’s life cycle.