Menstrual hygiene management keeps girls in schools

Prior to Girl Empowerment Project(GEP) at Aboloi Primary School, girls were often teased and laughed at by their fellow pupils about their personal hygiene during menstruation. The boys, who sometimes refused to share benches with girls they suspected of having their period, harshly stigmatised them.

Rose, a Primary 7 pupil at the school, spoke about the embarrassment she suffered. “One day I started experiencing my period while in school. I remember it was during break time and the back of my skirt had blood on it. I tried to hurry home to bathe and change my skirt, but some boys ran after me and surrounded me.

They laughed at me while singing funny songs. I felt very bad when some boys started saying ‘Ewurit iteng’ to me, which literally means a cow that has delivered. I cried but they kept singing. After that, I stayed home from school for a week [every month] so as not to experience that again.”

Some girls who were stigmatised transferred to other schools because they were no longer comfortable at Aboloi. Others simply stayed away from school for three to five days each month until their periods were over because they did not have access to menstrual pads. For some girls, the abuse continued even when they returned to school; they were welcomed back with further taunting and harassment. As a result of this teasing, many girls lost the confidence to participate in class and had trouble concentrating on their studies. Most girls didn’t know much about menstrual hygiene or how to keep themselves healthy and clean during their periods. Although some girls used sponges or wore a second layer of underwear, many girls didn’t use any protection at all.

Through GEP, the school introduced reusable menstrual pads (RUMPs) to pupils to promote improved hygiene during menstruation and reduce instances of teasing and stigmatisation.

“There was a lot of silence when we first introduced the topic,” said Apolot Deborah, a project officer for GEP. “The girls looked at one another while the boys looked at one another and pointed fingers at some girls. The boys became more involved after we explained that every woman experiences menstruation and that it is a normal biological process. Soon the pupils began asking questions and talking freely about the topic. After answering all of their questions, we ended the sensitisation meeting by getting the pupils excited about our next session on making RUMPs,” she concluded.

During the RUMPs training pupils were taught how to properly cut soft pieces of cloth to the right size and shape and sew the different pieces of material together into a pad. The pupil sensitisation and training had an immediate, positive effect on both boys and girls in the school. The girls’ personal menstrual hygiene improved and they were able to hide their menstruation from boys at school by using the new pads. The boys’ attitudes changed and they stopped laughing at the girls for menstruating. This contributed to a more positive school environment where girls were not afraid to go to school.

“After learning how to make RUMPs at school, I went home and made more RUMPs for myself. I also taught my mother and sister to make them as our teacher requested. Now I don’t get ashamed or embarrassed when my period comes,” said Rose. “I attend classes when I’m menstruating and no one suspects or says anything. The boys stopped laughing at me and other girls. I am very happy at school now,” she added.

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