No more rags, leaves and sitting on sand during menstruation

Promoting menstrual hygiene

Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye
menstrual hygiene management
UNICEF Uganda/2018/Nakibuuka
13 August 2018

Maija Napeyok, 17 years and a Primary seven pupil from Loodoi Primary School, Napak District, remembers  her first monthly period. “I was 14 years when I had my first period and I was surprised. I had gone to the borehole to fetch water and upon return, I realized my dress was soiled. My mother was the first to see the stain, so she requested me to go to the bathroom to check. Oh, indeed it was blood! She told me I had started my periods and that it was normal. She told me to bathe, gave me a pad and showed me how to use it.” Napeyok narrates. “However, I felt ashamed, because I remembered that some boys had been laughing at me at the borehole but I didn’t know why.” 

The laughing did not stop at home. One day at school, Napeyok soiled her dress during a lesson because she sometimes used rags as her parents couldn’t afford pads every month. “The boys laughed at me, they didn’t know anything about menstruation. They all run away and the girls too felt ashamed,” she said. “I always feared standing up in class to answer questions.” 

Napeyok is not the only girl in the school that faced challenges during her monthly menstrual periods. Her friend Joanita Abura, 17, also shares that she had to stay out of school for five days when her first period came. She neither had sanitary pads nor knickers.

“I had nothing! I would bathe then wrap myself with a thick skirt and when I soiled, I would go back to bathe.”

Napeyok adds that girls in her village are not any better. When their periods appear, they are isolated from the rest of community members, told to sit on sand, while others use leaves, and no school. These and more are some of the experiences of these adolescent girls.

Luckily for Napeyok and Abura, their school is among the 117 schools that are benefiting from the Straight Talk Clubs that are sensitizing pupils both boys and girls and school leaders on menstrual hygiene management. The clubs have been founded with UNICEF support and funding from the Irish Aid.

In 2017, the school with support from UNICEF through Straight Talk Foundation, established clubs where pupils - both boys and girls are sensitized on menstrual hygiene management among many other issues. The pupils have been trained to make reusable pads that are provided to the girls especially the needy. Materials utilized to make the pads including cotton wool, cloth, polythene - are all provided with UNICEF support, courtesy of Irish Aid funding.

“Ever since we learnt how to make pads, even our friends who used to miss lessons are now able to continue with their studies because the pads are available. There was a lot of absenteeism by school girls and the dropout rate was also high,” Napeyok says. 

The boys too have been sensitized about menstruation and encouraged to support the girls during their periods and are involved in making the reusable pads. “They don’t laugh at us anymore when our clothes get soiled. Instead they provide their sweaters to us to cover our dresses and encourage us to keep extra clean.” In the clubs, they have been sensitised to support each other.

Through the clubs, the school has also provided a ‘safe space’ complete with a changing and washing facility where the girls privately dress up and bathe during their periods. The space also has extra reusable pads, soap, water, for use, as and when needed.

“The safe space is very good because we have to change our pads thrice a day and each time, we have to wash the pads. Whenever one needs to use the room, the key is always available.”

The girls attest that ever since the clubs were started, they no longer worry about menstruation. They receive support from their school leaders and peers and all they need to worry about now is learning and excelling.  

Longwok Catherine, the Senior Woman teacher, says the club activities around menstrual hygiene management have greatly supported the adolescent girls. She adds that the club members also reach out to girls out-of-school, sensitizing them about menstruation, provide them with reusable pads as well as teach them how to make the pads and many have returned to school in the last one year because of these efforts. 

“Today, I am free. I can even play when I am menstruating. Before I would feel shy to play with my friends. I would just sit behind the classroom, because I feared the rags would leak or even fall out. Our reusable pads cannot fall out because they have strings.”