Menstruation is often viewed as a sign that a woman has come of age. While some celebrate it, in some parts of Maaland, girls go through tough times during their period as the biological process is surrounded by ridiculous myths bordering on the absurd
Menstruation is one of the signs that a girl is blossoming into a woman, but in some parts of Maaland, the biological process comes with shame and is considered a taboo.
It is something that is talked about in hushed tones and a girl who enters this phase of development is cautioned against “playing with boys” to avoid getting pregnant.
No one wants to talk about the process of entering into womanhood and the pain and uncertainty that sometimes the girls face.
Even in school, teachers avoid the topic perhaps just throwing a word or two about the taboo topic. If it is a male teacher, then you are guaranteed that he will not even touch the topic with a ten-foot pole.
“Menstrual health management is a topic that should be spoken of freely, especially the hygiene part. However, there are other issues that affect girls during the times they are menstruating that need more attention. More often, we have seen organisations and well-wishers donate reusable pads, but they don’t provide water. In schools the teachers’ attitude makes it harder for the girls to ask for water to clean themselves up,” Jedidah Lemaron, who runs Malkia Foundation, says.
Lemaron says in the interior, where many girls have never seen a sanitary pad, they use cow dung, leaves or pieces of clothes during that time of the month.
Even for those who have access to sanitary towels the process is not easier. When it comes to disposal of the used menstrual materials whether modern or otherwise, the problem is magnified. Since the sanitary towels have polythene, throwing them in the latrines is hugely discouraged, as they are non-biodegradable. Burning them is the most prolific method of disposing them of, but myth has it that the act will leave one barren.
They, therefore, throw them in rivers to wash downstream or just a random place in the bushes.
Lemaron says during the days when one is menstruating, one is looked upon as dirty and is barred from certain responsibilities, including milking the cows.
“One is looked upon as dirty and the stigma associated with the natural act, takes psychological effect on them. Why would one waste water on bathing twice a day? Water is a precious commodity in the area and wasting is equivalent to sinning,” she says.
With the initiative, she runs a project that sees her collect donations from well-wishers to buy essentials needed by school-going girls.
Period of stress
Lorna Milanoi, a community mobiliser, says menstruating for school going girls, is a period of stress since lack of adequate sanitary materials often forces many to miss school for a couple of days.
Leakage on the school uniform will lead to embarrassment as people who should be able to help such as teachers are at times insensitive to the needs of the girls.
Lack of adequate latrines and water supply to comfortably enable the girls to change the sanitary materials and wash themselves is also a challenge.
“Once a girl starts menstruating, she is seen as ripe for marriage. It is a signal that many girls dread as they know they will have to end their education dreams and anything they had planned for themselves in the future,” Milanoi says.
According to her, one of the weirdest part of her job came when she met a group of young girls who had been brainwashed to believe that if one starts menstruating before undergoing female genital cutting, is considered as an outcast and brings shame to the entire family.
“The biggest problem lies within raising awareness first to the girls for them to understand the importance of menstrual health management, then to the entire community to understand how it affects the community at large and not just women,” she adds.