A different city, a different context, and different participants – but the same challenges and enthusiasm to overcome them in Madagascar last week. Following training in Kenya earlier this month, our seven-day course in Antananarivo was delivered to Masters students currently studying urban management but with little or no technical experience in the WASH sector. For them, the course was the ideal platform to learn about WASH challenges in urban areas. As part of the training, we asked students how people in Madagascar react to public discussions and awareness campaigns on menstruation and menstrual hygiene – and which types of campaigns and messages were most appropriate. A revised national sanitation and hygiene strategy is currently being developed in the country, and its authors, including a leading lecturer from Institut Supérieur de Technologie d’Antananarivo (IST-T http://www.ist-tana.mg/), are faced with the challenge of including menstrual hygiene in the policy. The students, all men and women in their early 20s, shied away from discussing the topic initially, using euphemisms or even negative terminology like ‘issue’, ‘problem’, ‘phenomenon’.

However, the discussion we had really changed the mindset. Initially, we planned the discussion to last for only a few minutes but it turned into a much longer, thought-provoking debate. Participants all engaged enthusiastically in the discussion and there was an interesting change in attitude and vocabulary, with participants discussing menstruation and periods frankly and without any judgement.

This discussion was part of our wider training on WASH for low-income urban areas, and the course also included field trips to learn more about hand washing, pit emptying, and water supply in Antananarivo. The participants left with a renewed focus and interest – a great result for these future city planners.