We still live in an age when women and girls cannot easily and freely speak about this taboo that is menstruation. There numerous code names for this ‘thing’ that happens to girls from as early as 12 till the time they reach menopause are proof that, most would rather not have it discussed or mentioned in their presence.
You will hear most ladies refer to menstruation as having their ‘Ps/Pees’, periods, menses, that time of the month, and in some communities(where I come from) it is referred to as ‘shiroz’.
I remember my first period started when I was 13. I had just finished primary school and was waiting excited eagerly waiting to join high school. It was in December and I had chosen to wear a bright dress that day. Every girl remembers exactly where they were, what they were wearing and how they felt during their first menses.
I, like most of the girls my age then, had not been told before hand what exactly having your menses meant or the first thing about what to use. My mum just handed me a bail of cotton wool and I had to figure out how it was used. I love my mum dearly and I don’t blame her for not teaching me these things early enough. There has always been a lot of unwritten rules from society on sex education and what role parents play in that. That is a growing problem in a lot of African villages where most young girls don’t know the mere basics about their reproductive health or about health education.
I wish my mum had sat me down and just told me simply what my body was going through and why I should be weary of boys once my menses start. I swore to make sure that my 2 girls get to know enough when that day comes. I hope it will be easy breaking it down.
My lacking was only in getting the information. I was among the very few lucky ones who had parents who could provide the with that roll of cotton wool and panties. I never missed a day of school because of my periods.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for many other girls in Africa.
No Pads No School
According to UNICEF, one in ten schoolgirls in Africa miss classes or drop out completely due to their period, and substitute pads or tampons for less safe and less absorbent materials such as rags, newspaper or bark.
As Leonie Taylor from Think Africa Press writes, There are many aspects that link girls’ attendance rates to their menstrual cycles. Firstly, the lack of affordable sanitary products and facilities for girls and women keeps them at a disadvantage in terms of education when they are young and prevents their mobility and productivity as women. Secondly, the lack of clean and healthy sanitation such as toilets and running water means that girls often do not have anywhere to change or dispose of pads safely and in privacy at school. Thirdly, the taboo nature of menstruation prevents girls and their communities from talking about and addressing the problem; raising awareness and education to eliminate the stigma of menstruation is a large part of the battle.
Girls in rural Uganda miss up to eight days of study each school term because they are on their periods, a study of menstrual management in Uganda found. This was due to lack of washrooms, lack of sanitary pads and bullying by peers, focus groups with 12 to 17 year olds in 20 primary schools in five districts revealed. The eight days on average translates into 11% of the total learning days in a year. It’s a school absence rate that is hard for the girl to make up for and partly accounts for girls dropping out of high school.
Why are sanitary pads important to a girls health and education?
- Reducing absenteeism from class –with a supply of sanitary pads, girls will not have a reason to stay home during their periods.
- Improving a girl’s self esteem- during puberty, girls develop a low self esteem if they for instance soil their dresses during their periods.
- A more hygienic option –Girls from poor backgrounds use unorthodox methods to control their flow which sometimes leads to infections
- Freedom from shame – menstruation being a taboo in our society, talking about it with the girls will encourage them to not see it as shame, but a part of a woman’s life which they should be proud of
The Gift A Girl Campaign
On 13th February 2014, the Pad Heaven Initiative in conjunction with Bloggers Association Of Kenya will give gift baskets to 300 girls at Shadrack Kimelel Primary School in Ngumo where the association already has a book project called ‘Adopt a library’.
A Valentines with a Difference
For Ksh. 500, each of Pad Heaven’s gift baskets will contain 1 year’s supply of sanitary pads, 3 pairs of undergarments, a booklet on Menstrual Health, a bar of chocolate, biscuits, a soft drink, a rose flower, and a customized card with a message to empower the girls.
The #GiftAGirl campaign will take place on social media and this time, men are particularly encouraged to take part in this campaign so they also can be involved in the conversation of Women’s Reproductive Health. This is one great way to get involved.
I recently wrote an article with 5 reasons why you should not celebrate Valentines day.
To the Men
This is a worthy cause that if you donate to, your wife/girlfriend/fiancee will remember her ‘first day’ and know how big a difference you will be making to a girl’s life as well as how caring you can to other human beings you don’t even know. Women love that.
To the women
You remember how scary and shameful it was for you when you had your first periods. How, having that pad and that panty made all the difference. Now, just imagine that there are over 900,000 girls who miss upto 4 days a month of school during their menses.
Who is Pad Heaven?
Pad Heaven is an initiative that aims to nip the unfortunate scenario of girls missing school in the bud. This they do through several initiatives the current one and one that is calling for your participation being #GiftAGirl.
The campaign will be using the Valentine period to cheer up the girls as well as educate them on menstruation and other changes in their bodies and why they are happening, address adolescent girl issues to make sure that the girls do not lose out on education, and above all, create awareness about the big and fairly ignored problem of girls missing school for lack of feminine products.