The month of August 2014 has truly been special to Trailblazers Mentoring Foundation, our focus has been on Menstrual Hygiene and Management among young girls in primary school (9years -15years) and health club members (both boys and girls) to introduce them to homemade pads, address issues of menstrual management and personal hygiene.
Meeting over 1000 young people this month, Trailblazers mentors discussed issues of growth and coping with the changes that occur. In all the many sessions held in over 15 schools, the tension and unease was overwhelming. Menstruation isn’t something you discuss openly with your child and it has been this way for ages. But for how long would we whisper or keep silent about something natural, beautiful and manageable? The start of menstruation is a momentous event in a young girl’s life. However many girls embrace those first drops of blood with fear, confusion and shock NEVER joy. All because they are never prepared for the changes that are soon to occur at puberty
The on- set of menstruation highly contributes to the drop out, absenteeism and low completion rates for girls in Uganda and many other countries that struggle with the same issue. This highly compromises the quality of education because many girls lack the support and ability to manage menstruation. UNICEF estimates that 1 in 10 girls skips school for 4 -5 days for every 28 days cycle or drops out completely. We then ask the boys and girls to work out the amount of days lost, well 4-5 days means this girl loses 13 learning days which is equivalent to 2 weeks of school and 104 hours of class time every term. About 23% of girls between the ages of 12 -18 drop out of school when they begin menstruation.
This background is eye opening to school administrators, parents/guardians, boys and girls. It brings out the very reason each one of us as a stakeholder to break the silence on menstruation or watch on as more and more bright futures are cut short over a manageable natural beautiful process. On average, our girls start their periods when they’re 12 or 13 years old (although some begin earlier or later). However when we keep silent and never prepare them for the changes that occur at puberty or talk to them when it has already began then that’s too late.
Now, the question is, how do we do you discuss menstruation, avail our young boys and girls with age appropriate information, offer guidance and support, before this big day even arrives? The boys? Why even bother bringing the boys on board? Well, our boys spend a lot of time with girls while at school -9 months to be exact. When not educated about menstruation they turn out to be the ones that tease and bully the girls if they ever soil their dressing at school or in the community. However when talked to about menstrual hygiene and management they appreciate the whole process, support and guide the girls in their school, community and homes.
At this point you can see a dozen questions written all over their beautiful faces, they hunger for knowledge on this mysterious topic. Given an opportunity they ask how they can tell a girl is soon going to start menstruation, how does a girl get ready for their period, how long does menstruation last, how much blood does a girl lose, what do you do if you stain/ soil your clothing, how does a girl use sanitary towels- the list of questions is endless. Addressing all these questions helps them plan and prepare accordingly, tell them of the good and bad materials as we have found some using newspapers, leaves, banana fibre, cotton wool, toilet paper among many other materials. We need to talk to them on what is good to use, not good to use and why. Demonstrate how to use a sanitary towel, make one by yourself, and address issues of personal hygiene, proper disposal taking into consideration of the environment.
By the time we conclude the session, the health club and school administration have work plans on how to support girls manage menstruation periods. We have them rethink their school system in line with being gender responsive- have emergency sanitary towels and uniform, put in place a washroom with soap, water, jerrycans, basins/buckets for girls to freshen up while at school, have health club sessions in classes by the children for the children, have an incinerator in place and educate the school on proper disposal, promote the making of homemade pads because they are affordable.
Asking the girls and boys if menstruation is or should be a problem like they thought at the start of the session? Faces light up bright and each spring up with a response… they are the generation left behind to transform their schools and communities, breaking the silence on menstruation and keeping girls in school!
Breaking the silence begins with me and you dear reader, let us break the silence right from our homes, do away with shame and share information far and wide J Trailblazers Mentoring Foundation is here to support and learn from you too…