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.
“Before… I was laughed at by the boys – even ones who are friends,” said Vast Chingwalu (17) when I chatted to her at her village where she and her family were dehusking corn, which is in season.
As a result of the teazing she missed several days of school a month. Now, after becoming part of Action Aid’s program, she’s back at school all month. “These pads make a huge difference – I can even play netball and am able to stand in class with confidence!” she says.
Despite the confidence the pads give Vast – she still believes the local area myths around her time of the month. Part of her education about periods, as passed on to her by her mother, and a group of ladies from the community, included being told not to cook using salt during her period. Doing so would result in, among other things, the recipient’s teeth falling out.