Meet the “Pad Man” breaking taboos and transforming lives in Papua
Demianus Dike is teaching students how to make sanitary pads to help mainstream menstrual health and hygiene in schools.
In Tanah Papua, one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia, a strong patriarchal culture makes menstruation a taboo topic of conversation, especially among men. But Demianus Dike is one local man daring to break the myths and misconceptions about periods in his community.
Demianus, or Demi, works for the Noken Papua Foundation, a local non-governmental organization that focuses on health and education development in Papua. In his role, he not only educates communities on menstrual health and hygiene management (MHM) but also teaches students, teachers and headmasters how to make reusable sanitary pads from cloth. Because of his skills, some of his friends call him the “Papuan Pad Man.”
“I may get bullied from my friends because I am talking about menstruation,” he said. “But I take this risk so that girls in Papua can realize their right to health and hygiene access at school, even when they are menstruating.”
For girls, appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) supplies and facilities are an important part of ensuring their safe and healthy participation in school. But research by UNICEF in 2015 shows that one in six girls in Indonesia reportedly skipped school while menstruating, often due to a lack of sanitary pads and gender-separated toilets, which prevent them from managing their periods comfortably. A 2020 study published by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology with support from UNICEF showed that one in three schools in Indonesia did not have single-sex toilets.
Salomina Wally, a headmaster in Papua, sees this affecting girls at her school. “It is not easy to provide spare sanitary pads for hundreds of female students. The budget allocation is limited and there are many other things that need to be prioritized,” she explained.
Demi is concerned that some girls in rural areas in Papua are missing classes when they have their period and is determined to change this trend. He recently facilitated a three-day training on MHM in Sentani, Jayapura District, with support from the District Government, UNICEF and the Noken Papua Foundation. The training involved 20 female and 6 male students from primary and junior secondary schools across Jayapura District who were accompanied by their teachers and headmasters. The objective of the session was to train the students to become Kader Kesehatan Remaja (KKR), or adolescent health cadres, who will educate their peers on MHM in their respective schools.
During the training, the students, teachers and headmasters learned how to make reusable sanitary pads from cloth that is readily available in their communities. After showing them how to make a sanitary pad step by step, Demi divided the participants into four groups so that they could practice making the pads themselves. The groups included both girls and boys so that they could collaborate and support each other.
In one corner, Patricia Chesya Pesurnay, a student from “Bonaventur” Junior Secondary School, enthusiastically took charge of her group. She assigned specific tasks to her peers, such as making the patterns, cutting the cloth and sewing it together.
While the task seemed difficult at first, all the groups came together and produced at least three to four sanitary pads each over the course of two hours. Although the quality of the pads was not perfect, Patricia and her friends were proud and said they were willing to use the sanitary pads that their group had made.
Mrs. Wally, who also attended the training, said she is willing to try the same exercise with her students. “I believe this reusable sanitary cloth could be the solution for our school,” she said confidently as she shared her follow up plan. “It is easy to prepare, less expensive and environmentally friendly.” Other teachers and headmasters also agreed and said they planned to implement MHM activities in their schools after the training.
By involving both male and female students, Demi hopes that the participants will be able to dispel the persistent myths and stigma around menstruation among schoolchildren. Giston, a male student from Junior Secondary School 6, admitted he had many misconceptions before taking part in the training. “It is common for boys to bully their female peers when they are menstruating at school,” he said. “But this will not happen again.” Giston said he now understands the negative impacts of bullying on girls and promised to share his newfound knowledge with his friends.
“Menstruation is a normal process for girls, and they have to be in class to study even when menstruating,” said Demi. “Therefore, it is important to create a comfortable environment for female students at schools.”
UNICEF Indonesia has been mainstreaming MHM at both the national and subnational level. The work of local partners like Demi is proof that men, especially in Papua, can understand the importance of menstrual health and hygiene and help girls to manage their period in a safe and dignified manner. He hopes that after participating in the training, students, teachers and headmasters will be able to include MHM activities at their schools so that no girl will have to skip classes during menstruation again.