What you need to know:
- Stigma and discrimination against menstruating girls and women, especially by men and boys in the communities, schools and workplaces causes anxiety and stress to them
Cultural taboos, poverty, gender inequalities and discriminatory social norms often hinder women and girls from managing their menstrual health and hygiene.
Stigma and discrimination against menstruating girls and women, especially by men and boys in the communities, schools and workplaces causes anxiety and stress to them.
Absence of much needed support from men and boys has exposed girls and women to different risks during their red days like inability to participate in community or school activities, restricted movements, irregular attendance and school dropout due to depression (UNICEF 2019).
In most families and institutions, menstrual hygiene management is never discussed among men and boys and it is considered “a women’s thing”. This has only aided ignorance among boys and men, especially on how to support female counterparts during menses.
I must admit that I once ridiculed an innocent girl on her menses out of ignorance and every day I leave to amend my actions by taking menstrual hygiene management seriously and as a personal responsibility. One fateful day during my Senior One (S1), it was our turn to sweep our dusty classroom, according to our sweeping roster. Upon hearing the bell ring at around 3:30pm for games and sports time, David and I rushed to pick compound brooms and embarked on completing our assignment before 4:00pm, a time for general assembly and departure.
Upon our return to nearly an empty classroom to ‘face-off’ the dust and of course no one had heard of the face masks, we started to vigorously sweep the class. What agitated me was one girl Gloria (not her real name) who amidst the dusty classroom sat put on her desk and never moved an inch yet everyone had self-evacuated.
I furiously asked whether she had not seen what we were doing and whether the dust was not choking her!? To my surprise I received no reaction to my rhetoric questions. When I kept on pressing her to leave the class, it attracted some students who were still hanging outside the classroom and a handful of them reverted to class to support me to evict ‘ an adamant’ Gloria.
However, to my dismay I witnessed a blood socked uniform when an older girl who must have realised what Gloria was going through probably out of experience, rushed to her and wrapped a sweater around Gloria’s waist. Only then was Gloria able to walk out of the classroom. This could have been Gloria’s menarche (first menstruation). Being young and ignorant of my actions that day, I did not care to know how my behaviour could have affected Gloria as long as I completed sweeping the classroom on time.
Two weeks after, Gloria never appeared in class only to return later to answer questions from boys like what happened to you? Why didn’t you leave earlier after realising that you were starting to bleed? Don’t you know that women use pads? No wonder Gloria only endured for that term and changed the school the following term. The experience must have traumatised her a lot!
Ten years later, my friend Nathan Okiror conducted his last undergraduate dissertation research and shared with me the findings that girls miss school because of menstruation periods and his call for action from me and our friend Fiona only reminded me why Gloria’s missed school for two weeks. The burning desire to correct my actions and probably millions out their like me on menstrual hygiene management inspired me to join hands to start an organisation (Imagine Her) back in 2016 to train women and girls to make reusable sanitary pads with boys and men’s active involvement.
Just like Gloria, millions of girls and women globally continue to miss not only classes but also other opportunities just because men and boys have failed to understand that it is part of life for every female to menstruate. Therefore at an individual level every man and boy can support a woman or a girl by buying pads or offering psychosocial support during menstruation rather than ridiculing them. It’s important to create a world where no woman and girl is held back because they menstruate.
James Otai, Women empowerment enthusiast and a co-founder of Imagine Her (IH) .