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.
“One day I woke up and I just realized I was not the same, “ says Elena Unyolo (17) of starting her period. This is definitely true when it comes to her school attendance. She misses school for about 4 days a month, and then endures punishment for her non-attendance for about 3 days – which in her case involves slashing grass on the school fields and other chores like mopping the toilets. “It makes me angry”, she said.
But this still beats going to class and facing potential teasing. If you soil yourself and leave the class without permission you get punished (and by doing so alert the boys to the fact that you have your period). More importantly you are continually conscious of the situation and can’t concentrate on the teacher anyway, says Elena.
She hopes that her new pads will allow herself and her fellow girls to miss less school. More importantly she hopes that the program will mean people talk about the situation more, there will be less punishment and ostracizing, and that something will be done about the school toilets which lack doors and any form of privacy.
“It is my dream to become a teacher so I can assist others to become who they want to become,” Elena says.