Menstruation is not supposed to be messy. But for girls like Nabirye Feima, 14, the menstruation topic is a secret only meant for Nabirye’s mother and herself at the darkest part of their garden.
“When I had my first period, I was scared. I didn’t want to move around and I just stayed in the house,” Nabirye said.
Nabirye attends Bukose Junior School in Buyende district in Eastern Uganda. She dreams of becoming a nurse one day. She now lives with her mother and other relatives.
Notwithstanding being a normal biological process, menstruation remains to be a taboo subject in some parts of Uganda and is not talked about openly especially in the presence of boys and men.
This leads to the inadequate or lack of basic knowledge of menstruation and how to manage it among women and girls. Unprepared for their first menstrual period, girls like Nabirye rely on older female relatives, who are not knowledgeable themselves, for support and information. Furthermore, poor access to affordable sanitary pads forces some girls to use unhygienic materials which are either ineffective in containing blood or and worst, expose them to health risks.
“When in community, people make fun and gossip about girls who get stains on their skirts, and when at school, boys and male teachers mock us” she said.
“Our fell students, especially the boys, always point fingers at girls and start laughing. Before I started menstruating, I could not take laughs seriously, but when I started, it terrified me,” she said.
Outdated beliefs and practices, which perceive menstruation as “dirty” or people who have it as “sick”, often mean needless limitations to girls, especially not going to school, not preparing or touching food, etc. Such limitations also impact on girls’ self-esteem and well-being as they can view themselves as “dirty” or “sick” each time they have their menstruation.
“When I go in menstruation, I am stopped from preparing food and I am supposed to notify my mother whenever I am menstruating. I don’t play when I am menstruating and things like that,” Nabirye said.
“When my cousin had menstruation for the first time, she was made to stay at home the whole month she stayed at home, her parents based on outdated beliefs and practices and they told her not to move beyond her bathroom,” Nabirye said.
In turn, Nabirye said that her cousin had her performance in class drastically dropping because she missed classes due to menstruation.
In May 2022, LIDEISA team visited Nabirye’s school and conducted a menstrual hygiene management education through which they deeply spoke to girls and boys, including their teachers, about menstruation and how to safely manage menstruation in healthy and dignified way.
Whereas they were all brought under one roof, some sessions separated the boys and male teachers from the girls so that girls feel comfortable sharing their experiences without fear of being harassed by the boys.
“When LIDEISA raised awareness about menstruation, we learnt it is okay to share our thoughts and feelings to people around us which made us comfortable to share our experiences without hesitations regarding menstruation,” Nabirye said.
“I heard some little knowledge about menstruation from my mother, but I learned a lot from a wonderful team from LIDEISA. I learned the reason why we should wash our hands whenever we menstruate, how to wash hands and how to wash the LIDEISA reusable sanitary pads LIDEISA team donated to us.”Nabirye said.
Nabirye’s school director Tibagalika Mustafa, said the menstrual hygiene management education conducted by LIDEISA was very helpful.
“The pupils including boys and their male teachers and I learned a lot about menstruation as a subject, the taboos around it and how to overcome it, but most importantly, treating and supporting girls while in menstruation,” he said.
“I learned new things during the sessions. This is very helpful, especially for the girls and boys who can then advise fellow pupils and younger siblings about menstruation hygiene management and sanitation,” he added.
“If we are to change things about menstruation and associated taboos, we have more work to do within schools, communities and policy-makers to ensure that girls get acquainted with adequate guidance on menstrual hygiene management, including right information and safe MHM.” Deo Walusimbi, LIDEISA Chief Executive Officer, said “we need to work together to see that girls’ right to education is not denied by menstruation through ensuring that menstruation is made a normal process it should be, the reason we engage even boys, give them knowledge about menstruation and encourage them to support girls during menstruation.”