Monday, 6 June 2016

The Tell Tale Stain - Why Menstruation Matters

Last year MH Day celebrations, we reflected on Menstruation Matters “A day we should all feel free and happy to celebrate despite the culture of silence around menstruation.”

It’s another year where we are celebrating #Menstruation Matters to everyone everywhere- I still believe that the Complexity, versatility and beauty of menstruation is still exciting and a topic to bounce happily about to everyone everywhere. But to many adolescence school going girls in Kenya, it’s still a nightmare! They’re ridiculed, they cannot talk about Menstruation openly. It’s never a Tell Tale Sign of pride it’s a curse.

When these girls are growing up they are never empowered to learn the coding if Menstruation ever came knocking; they have to figure it on their own and the experience isn’t that different from many girls we have trained on MHM, their joy is deflated and sulk all days when the ‘Tell Tale Stain’ shows up.

According to many school girls we have trained, apart from the Tell Tale Sign, the ‘why-so’ game still gets to them. “Why are you not going to school?” the parents question. To some the ‘why’ lasts up to 6 days! After they get back to school when the flow ends-the teachers don’t spare them from the “why –so question”- some go Scott free and others don’t, they’re punished for missing in class without any reason. For want of words, they just make a face. How could they explain to their teachers they were absent for lack of sanitary towels/Materials?

To them, it’s something that’s unspeakable, a horror that plague all young girls and women through their entire fertile years.

When speaking to the girls during MHM trainings; they wish they can be able to explain for missing out from school and get a comforting response from their teachers telling them “it’s your body young girl and it’s a natural process, Own it instead of hating it or fearing it”
To empower girls with the knowledge on menstruation and build their confidence including breaking the silence and taboos surrounding it, we set out to Ndanai a rural area within Bomet County. Some of the situations we found out confronting menstruating girls and putting them at risk in this area are including family living conditions, perceptions of menstruation among peers and family, girls’ knowledge about menstruation and lack of support system at home and school. For example unimproved sanitary facilities that lack privacy is one of the confronting challenges that keep girls away from school during Menstruation despite availability of managing the periods. For those girls who try to manage with the surrounding challenges they become ‘detectives’ at an early age.

In one of the schools we visited, I got a chance to remind myself of my school old days- Rope skipping.

 I noticed the girls who visited the unimproved latrines, had one girl playing detective in case the boys came closer or other girls wanted to use the facility (it was only one toilet in use). The girl acted as the privacy wall and door which was lacking.

Girls showing off their amazing jump rope skills
Unimproved pit latrine used by the girls

For the training, our target includes teachers and girls from Class four to eight. The training focuses on understanding puberty & menstruation, Menstrual Myths and Menstrual Hygiene Management. The sessions are in-depth, giving opportunity for the girls to ask questions and seek clarifications.

MHM Training Session
Menstruation is not talked about openly within the community and this was evident during the training sessions as many of the girls were shy and astonished. But at the end of the training the teachers, girls agree that the training was an eye-opener for them as far as menstrual hygiene management was concerned. Further, the training helped break certain taboos and clarify myths centred around the issue on menstruation and its management.

“Blood represents fertility and cramps represent danger and one has to be on danger alert” I would never burn sanitary towel because I will be burning my eggs and lose my chance of ever becoming a mother” one girl explained. I keep on thinking, is it because Menstruation is tracked as a taboo and that’s the reason why myths continue to live on, to be adhered to and are not questioned from one generation to another?

Girls shying off during MHM training seeing their male teacher’s demonstration on how to use the sanitary towels

Teaching about menstruation is crucial! We make it easy and open.

The girls, through the training become aware of the reproductive tract infections and of the menstrual hygiene practices that need to be followed during the menstrual days. They now understand that personal hygiene especially during the menstrual cycle is even more vital and have decided not to go back to their earlier unhygienic habits. It also instilled a sense of pride and confidence among the young girls.

Overall, our work on WINs focuses on fostering health, education and individual self-respect and addresses MHM as a key agenda. Integrating MHM into WINS has empowered students and especially encourages girls and female teachers. Further the program has drawn the attention of stakeholders particularly the county government toward this neglected feminine right in order to make our schools and communities healthier.

Menstrual Hygiene Management component is still very crucial to be integrated into all school WASH programs. Lack of awareness on menstruation and its management remains another big reason why girls stay home from school. They can lose up to five days per month, leading to loosing track of their school work and eventually dropping out.

We all know and agree that Girls’ education needs to be promoted beyond enrolment and completion, but through regular attendance as well.

Let’s talk about it open, sustain the dialogue that will make every girl and woman proud of their body and status, let’s keep all the girls in school because Menstruation Matters to everyone, everywhere.

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