As a young girl growing up towards the adolescent stages of my life, I always had mixed feelings about my first menstrual experience. I always wondered whether it would be a painful one, would I cry, would it be a painless and smooth process, all these were unanswered imaginations. Adolescence presents crucial changes in one’s life, ranging from physical bodily changes to mental growth.
Some of the bodily changes include but are not limited to menstruation. However, the old traditional African setting has not yet fully been liberalized for children transitioning into adolescence to be able to interact freely with their parents, guardians and mentors. This has created an information gap and dilemma among these particular children since they are ignorant about the various ways they can handle these changes that show up such as menstruation
Unlike many young girls whose first menstrual experience starts at a very young age, some at home, and others in mixed-sex schools, I had my first encounter at the age of 14. It was a scary experience. Luckily enough, I was in an all-girls’ boarding school at the time. Without any idea about how to deal with the situation, I had to turn to a friend to help me manage it. I believe I was among the lucky few who had a friend to run to for such information.
Many young girls access information about menstruation from friends and peers, schools and the internet for the modern child. However as we have seen above, certain girls get there the first encounter while at home. Therefore there is a need for parents, especially mothers to educate their daughters about this process freely. Such knowledge will reduce the pressure and confusion one has to go through upon getting their first menstrual encounter.
In relation to the above, there are also myths surrounding menstruation in the girl child. Most communities still believe it to be unhygienic. In areas like the Karamoja region in North Eastern Uganda, it is believed that girls who are menstruating can stop crops from growing. Such myths are a breeding ground for communities to sideline such girls from participating in certain social activities.
As a result, these girls develop low self-esteem and embarrassment which affects their concentration in school. Most girls also experience discomfort, body weakness, among other side effects which lead to absenteeism in school and isolation.
In Uganda, many girls in rural areas cannot access materials used as adsorbents. To date, young girls in villages continue to miss school on days when they are menstruating because they cannot afford any sanitary material to use while at school.
Sadly, it has created an imbalance in school grades since the boys have more school time than girls. Fortunately, there has been a growing campaign by the government to provide free sanitary towels and also a push to be every girl’s right to access free sanitary towels by some civil society organizations.
In one of the recent trainings I attended, we were taught how to make reusable sanitary pads. These, unlike the ordinary factory-made disposable pads, are home-made pads made out of simple material like cloth, polythene, needle and thread. Fortunately, these create a hope that those who cannot access the disposable pads can use the reusable sanitary towels.
Menstruation requires good hygiene practice in order to maintain a healthy life. Therefore girls should be educated about the reality of menstruation and proper hygiene practices. More civil education about menstrual health and its management will do the girl’s child justice in the fight against discrimination and breaking cultural mythical boundaries related to menstruation.
Finally, I would encourage all stakeholders to embrace the issue of Menstrual Health Management as a natural condition and thus support young girls to stay in school, to stay empowered even when they begin their menstruation days, this then can improve the women’s and girls’ health and wellbeing.
VOLUNTEER, CIVIL SOCIETY UNLEASHED PROJECT. RESTLESS DEVELOPMENT.
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