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 Aida Jiwara who is 16. She is just one of the pretty kick-ass girls who were frank and open with me about monthly matters. They believe that sanitary towels are not trivial nice-to-have items, but essential tools in the fight against poverty and injustice.
“Life is not easy. You go to school, then you study, then you go back to school and then you do chores. There is no time to work and make any money. For pads you need money…” says Aida, who was one of the programs first recipients. She used to wear the traditional nyanda (a thin piece of cotton cloth used between the legs to help control leaking. It is, as you can imagine, not very effective…) and was teased and bullied. Most girls have just one piece of material to use as a nyanda - making it difficult to wash and get dry before needing to wear again. Aida said that hers more often that not remained moist, causing chafing. Terrified that she would soil herself or the nyanda would fall off, she used to miss up to 4 days of school a month (and earn a few days of punishment on top of those for missing school), and worries that she’ll have to go back to doing that when the lifespan of her new re-usable pads comes to an end.