For many adolescent girls around the world the onset of their first period means the screeching halt of their education. The simple lack of access (financially and logistically) to sanitary towels means a miserable time at school – mocking is rife. They miss up to a week of school of month. Many end up simply dropping out completely. In addition they have to contend with a host of myths and misinformation about that time of the month…
These girls, in a small village near Blantyre in Malawi, are part of a pilot project where mothers in the community are trained to make reusable pads that will be supplied to the girls for free. The hope is that it will improve their school attendance and their confidence.
This is Bertha James who is 15. She is shy and blushes easily. Bertha comes from a single headed household – her mom is a small-scale farmer growing groundnuts, pigeon peas and maize to support her family. It’s often just not enough though and the family’s means are not met. Money for sanitary pads is out of the question. And even if it weren’t the nearest shop selling them is many kilometers away.
Bertha would like to be a nurse one day – and recognizes how important school is to obtain her goal. But since she got her period a year ago she’s been missing an increasing amount of school days – due to a heavy flow and little way to prevent herself from soiling herself. She’s also worried about the smell. She’s teased incessantly, which, she says, “pains her.”
"Despite my period I am still happy to be a girl,” she says.