ISLAMABAD: In a colourful event on Thursday, Sana Mahmud, captain of the national basketball team, Hajra Khan, captain of the national football team, and Kiran Khan, an Olympic swimmer, were appointed as menstrual hygiene champions by UNICEF. In their new roles, Sana, Hajra and Kiran will use their extraordinary athletic success to engage and empower adolescent girls to bring the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene into the public discourse.Research commissioned by UNICEF indicates that adolescent girls in Pakistan are often uninformed and unprepared for the onset of menstruation. Teachers are reluctant to discuss it in school leaving mothers and other female family members as the primary source of information. The study suggests unfounded beliefs and myths surrounding menstruation, including prohibiting girls from taking a bath during their periods, eating certain foods, or participating in certain events. Because of this misinformation, menstruation is often associated with profound psychological and emotional problems by adolescent girls. Exclusion and shame leads to misconceptions and unhygienic practices during menstruation. Thus, girls tend to miss school and refrain from social interaction. In a bid to promote positive societal norms around menstruation, UNICEF is launching the ‘Be Bold, Be Free’ campaign to increase awareness on menstrual hygiene among different groups of society.These include mothers and teachers, fathers and boys to cultivate empathy and support for girls, as well as religious and community leaders to promote positive messages on the subject. Speaking at the event, Neil Buhne, the resident coordinator of the UN in Pakistan, said: “Girls must have the same chances as boys to achieve their full potential in life. They deserve our full support and must be provided with the opportunity to do so. Therefore, we are very happy to be here today with three young Pakistani women who have achieved extraordinary things in life. Kiran, Hajra and Sana have climbed to great heights in their respective sports.”Addressing the large gathering of young women, he said: “This tells us that each one of you too can be a winner. You can excel in sports, academics, arts or anything you set your mind to do. Nothing, and certainly not something as natural as your periods should ever stop you.”Stunted growth: United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative Angela Kearny said on Thursday that 44 percent children in Pakistan faced stunted growth due to the use of powdered milk“This is becoming a burden on the social and healthcare system of the country,” she said while talking to Radio Pakistan.“The International Marketing Court prohibits the advertising of powdered milk for children below two years of age. They are taking actions against the multi-national companies advertising the breast milk substitute in Pakistan.”She underscored the need for encouraging women to breastfeed their children as it was 100 percent safe and cost effective having all necessary nutritious contents.“The UNICEF is supporting Pakistan’s efforts to promote breastfeeding to children up to early six months of their age.”“The government, social welfare and media organisations and other relevant stakeholders are making significant efforts in this connection.”However, she pointed out that due to a rising trend of using powdered milk substitute of mother’s milk recommended by some doctors, nurses or midwives, women tended to give bottled milk to infants.The country director highlighted the major health issues faced by children in later years of their age who were not breastfed. “These children have fifteen times higher risk of dying of pneumonia and eleven times higher risk of death by diarrhoea.Kearney underscored the need for collective efforts on the part of all stakeholders. “The religious scholars can play a very important role in convincing the people on the issue,” she said. Published in Daily Times, August 4th 2017.