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Caption:Tamala, 23, uses a piece of cloth called nyanda during her period. 'Cleaning the nyanda can be problematic for us and our families, particularly with issues of hygiene and sanitation.' Kasungu, Malawi, August 2018.
Credit:WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga
Usage Rights:(1) Images may be used for all purposes, globally, in perpetuity. Images may be used by third parties.
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Key Information:Location: Kapyanga, Kasungu, Malawi
Local partners: Evangelical Lutheran Development Service
Project code: MWA54
Donor: UK Aid (DFID) – Deliver Life
Project status: Ongoing
Interview:Interviewee details:
This interview was a group discussion with;
Elizerbeth, 54
Tamara, 23
Mercy, 44


Materials used to soak menstruation

“During our menstruation period, we use nyanda – a rag or a piece of cloth cut off from an old chitenge wrap [traditional African fabric]. We place it in a piece the underwear. However, some among us cannot afford underwear, so in that case, we secure the nyanda in place by tearing a long and thin piece of the rag and tie it around the waist to hold the fabric tight in place.

We also know of women who are very poor that they can’t even afford the chitenge wrap, so they cut off a piece of their blanket and use that; it is less sanitary than the chitenge but then, they have no other option. Sometimes, a piece of cloth from our husband’s old shirt comes in handy, if a chitenge wrap is not available,” explained Elizabeth.

Handling of and caring for the nyanda
“If married, our husband is not supposed to see any piece of cloth that we are using, so the rags are carefully secured in a small plastic bag which we hang on a top corner close to the ceiling in the bedroom; this we do to ensure that our men do not have any close contact with that plastic bag, even when we are not on our period; and mostly they know that they cannot touch it because it’s for the ‘woman’ in the house.

Even when we are not on our period, we keep the plastic bag hidden. After washing, we can dry the nyanda only in the bedroom despite the foul smell which appears if soap has not been used. Drying it in the bedroom is also another way of telling the husband that “I am in that time of the month” and he then knows he must keep away from you sexually.

Depending on the menstruation flow, we can change the rags between three to five times a day. At night, we need to be extra careful not to stain the beddings, so sometimes we need to go out and change up to every three hours.

Travelling long distances when we are on our period is also a challenge. The flow during menstruation is intensified as opposed to when you are at home. As we are required to change and clean the nyanda once it is soaked, we have to stop and use a nearby river or shallow well to clean ourselves. This is not easy these days as most rivers have children playing around the river banks. So as a solution, we make sure that we have packed at least three to five pieces of nyanda,” said Mercy.

Cleaning the nyanda

“Cleaning the nyanda can be problematic for us and our families, particularly with issues of hygiene and sanitation. To clean a used nyanda, we use our feet first, continuously rubbing it against the ground, so we don’t have to touch it with hands. We then wash it in the mbiya [a clay pot used to store water] which means no-one else in the family can use it, because it becomes unsanitary, so we usually need two clay pots or even plastic basins, although the reality is that most families can only afford one.

This sanitary constraint also demands that we should have two bathrooms, one for when we are on our periods and one for the rest of the family to prevent infections, but most of us cannot afford two bathrooms, so we have to cope with what is available,” said Tamala.

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