My name is Barbara Namuddu, a peer educator with Reach A Hand, Uganda (RAHU) and I would like to tell you a story. A story that am not afraid to talk about because I am a girl and am proud to say that being a girl is not a punishment.
I have been volunteering with RAHU for nine months now under the Peer Educators Academy program where I have had an opportunity to interact with my peers in schools. My interaction is mainly premised on listening to their issues so that I, as a peer educator armed with the right information, can help them overcome their challenges.
It’s not a surprise that as a girl, fellow girls always feel open to share problems that they go through with me since they know that I, have also gone through the same. I am sure any girl reading this is nodding her head in agreement.
From the peer learning sessions I conduct, I always find out so many terrible tales happening to young girls in school (but also out of school) as young as twelve. One of those things are the experiences they go through during menstruation.
Burdened with cramps, heavy flow and surprise menstrual periods (since some are so young to know when the cycle starts), and interacting with rude or unsympathetic boys and men who don’t know how it feels to go through menstruation, girls are still living in terror.
Getting their periods in school can be such a hassle. Some are constantly running out of class to the bathroom every hour, making sure they are stocked with enough pads, and some try to pretend and seem like they’re not bleeding profusely out of their vaginas.
To some, If they’re caught off guard and their periods start in class, it becomes their most embarrassing moment as one girl I interacted with narrated;
“The shame of blood leaking through your skirt, boys calling you names, sores and infections, to mention but a few, makes you hate being a young healthy girl.”
Girls can you hear me?
Watch Barbara’s 6o seconds video on menstruation
This gets worse in a country like Uganda where menstruation is plagued with taboos. “If you’re menstruating and you climb a tree, then that tree will stop producing fruits”, “If you get periods, you must start having sex”, “girls in periods contaminate food”, “girls in periods cannot participate in schools.” etc.
Societies have the tendency to view women and girls as submissive to men and boys, and menstruation as a topic and issue has been stigmatized and made into a taboo topic that should only be discussed in private. This, in turn, prevents women and girls from accessing the information they need about menstruation and their bodies.
In this age and era, the last thing you expect to hear is a man or boy saying that a menstruating girl is dirty or can cause harm to others, and yet my interactions as a peer educator prove otherwise. It is therefore harder for girls to be in school during menstruation because these myths contribute to low confidence and fears of humiliation by others.
We need to make men and boys aware of the fact that menstruation is a completely natural part of life and ensure that girls are not inducted into puberty with feelings of shame. It’s unbelievably upsetting to discover how poorly we treat young girls — kids, really — going through this biological phenomenon that is no fault of their own, and more importantly, nothing to be ashamed of.
To overcome these challenges, we need to move beyond the stigma of menstruation. We need to educate boys and men on the importance of open dialogue on the subject. After all, men still make up a larger proportion of governments and corporate policy-makers in Africa.
It should be accepted that menstrual health is not just a “girl’s issue” but everyone’s issue: women and girls cannot drive development in communities if their menstrual health is not given due consideration. Oh and also – don’t make us we feel ashamed at that time of the month. We’re not faking it. It’s nature. Period!
Featured image: Barbara conducting a focus group discussion. Image courtesy of Reach a Hand Uganda.