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It is everyone’s role to break the silence around menstrual hygiene  

Ms Isabirye (R), Mr Kakaire and students listen to presentations during conclusion of the Solooza Always campaign at Kansanga Seed Secondary School in Kampala on Tuesday.  Photo | Courtesy 

What you need to know:

  • According to Petua Babirye Isabirye, there is a lot of silence on matters related to maturation and menstrual hygiene, which creates  problems for young girls 

Every girl-child has had an experience while growing up. In fact, this is how life is molded. But beyond the cast that life is, are the silent struggles that come with fitting in the puzzle to adjust to adulthood.   

It has never been an easy ride for any young girl. Actually, it is a journey of a long stretch that most girls have had to struggle to fit in. 

Life experiences are not alien to girls alone. Even boys have had rough vagaries, but nothing comes close to the experiences of a young girl, whose body is going through changes - changes that come with adulthood and the need to build sufficient courage to adapt to the reality of active sexuality. 

For many girls, the cycle of life into adulthood arrives a bit early, while others experience delays - but nevertheless, they eventually all get there - sometimes unaware. 

Experiences have shown that, over and above, girls go through many silent and difficult battles but the experience of a young girl getting stained unware, crowns it.

Most girls, studies have shown, start their periods at about 12, but some start as early as nine. 

Therefore, at such an age, it is too early for many to adapt to the new realities, which calls for parents or senior women participation to ensure that such girls are safely ushered into adulthood. 

Lydia, whose other name we have left out because she is still a minor, first heard her periods when she was 10 years. 

She was not prepared for it and it is one experience that is still imprinted in her mind four years later. 

“It was embarrassing,” she says but laughs off the fact that she even felt embarrassed then now that she has learnt to live with it.

“I did not know anything. I stood up to go for breakfast and that is when my friend told me I had stained my uniform,” she says with a little giggle. 

“The boys and some girls behind me were looking at me. Some were making funny gestures while others laughed loudly. I felt small but gathered courage and walked back to my seat not sure of what to do next.”

Now that Lydia has gone through the same process for four years, she believes if she had had been told enough, she would have reacted differently or prepared for that day.  

“Not that I did not know about menstruation. I had heard so much about it but no one had told me it would come that soon. Actually, I had been told that girls start at 12 or even 15 years. But here I was, 10 years and so naïve,” she says.

Such an experience is not alien to Lydia. In fact, many young girls have gone through that confidence draining moment and building back their real selves is another struggle that takes days or even weeks.

And it is from this that Petua Babirye Isabirye, the Equal Opportunities Commission principle education officer, argues that whereas there has been a lot of opening up about menstrual hygiene, more needs to be done.

“There is a lot of silence on matters related to maturation,” she says, highlighting the struggles that young girls go through as they transition into adulthood. 

“Many girls are not talked to about menstrual hygiene. They just find themselves there and learn to deal with it,” she says but also notes that whereas boys also go through challenges, menstrual hygiene comes with a lot of adjustments, some of which are life changing. 

Ms Isabirye was speaking at the end of a month-long Solooza Always campaign, which climaxed at Kansanga Seed Secondary School on Wednesday in Kampala. 

Cheeky as it might sound, Solooza, which loosely translates into “collect”, has and continues to bring to the fore menstrual hygiene, a subject that has for long been kept in the background. 

In many African setups, menstruation is considered a very private affair. Therefore, it is unusual for it to be discussed in an open forum. 

However, the Solooza Always campaign, an initiative of Always, a menstrual care and hygiene brand for women, seeks to disband this attitude because it has condemned many young girls into suffering yet they can be helped. 

“We want to build a culture of openness about [menstrual hygiene] and restore confidence of young girls that is lost during such times. We want to make young girls feel normal about periods,” Twaha Kakaire, the Solooza Always project director, says.

Of course dealing with the silence about maturation of young girls cannot be a one day or one man affair. It will be a deliberate attempt that is multi-sectoral.

However, Kakaire argues there is someone that has got to start the journey before others join in. 

The Solooza Always campaign, which started on September 12, was conducted in 197 secondary schools across Uganda, of which, 65 percent were government aided while 35 percent were private. 

The campaign required school-going girls and boys to gather Always empty packs that they would submit to their senior women teachers to enter into a rewarding programme through which they subsequently won scholarships, laptops, cash and at least a full year supply of Always pads.  

“We tactfully added boys to curb the stigma around menstruation, which they often extend towards girls. We are happy they … have changed their attitude. They showed it with how they passionately contributed empty Always packs for girls, and their schools. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and jumped in,” Kakaire says.  

And for their generous participation, three male students were rewarded with the overall winner among male participants, Andrew from Luzira Secondary School, who collected 600 empty packs of Always pads, going home with a laptop, Shs1m and a year of Always supply. 

Other male participants won laptops, cash prizes and a year of Always supply, while more than 10 girls were rewarded with cash, laptops and a year of Always supply. 

Kansanga Seed Secondary School, which topped the campaign received 10 laptops, while Rubaga Girls Secondary School, which was the first runners-up, received five laptops in addition to individual rewards for every participating student who excelled. .