CHARITIES are working to break taboos about menstruation which have led one Kenyan schoolgirl to take her own life, and which force thousands of others to miss school each month.
The UK campaigner Amika George, who founded the free period movement which pressured the Government into promising to provide free menstrual products for all students in schools and colleges in England, visited Zambia with the charity World Vision to see how its projects are helping young girls.
Tackling menstrual stigma is part of World Vision’s “1000 Girls” campaign, which seeks to find sponsorship for 1000 girls who are in danger of forced marriage or having no education, by 11 October, the UN International Day of the Girl.
Carey Ellis, for the charity, said that period poverty and menstrual stigma were a “huge issue” for girls both in Zambia and in many other countries in Africa. A Kenyan teenager took her own life last month after a teacher allegedly embarrassed her for having her period during a class.
World Vision has built lavatories and washing facilities in some schools to help girls feel confident about attending classes while they have their periods.
Ms Ellis said: “There are lots of myths and taboos around periods: for example, girls are told not to touch babies while they are menstruating as this will cause the baby not to grow; they are told not to put salt on their food, or to touch the food of others.
“World Vision is helping to break these taboos by working with parents, children, teachers, and community leaders to educate about periods. We also provide materials, and teach both boys and girls to make reusable period pads; these also help keep girls in school, as many can’t afford sanitary products. For girls who can’t afford underwear, we teach them to make knickers with reusable pads built in. All this means that girls’ attendance and school results are improving dramatically, giving them better options for the future.”
The charity is working in more than 500 schools in Zambia, and runs similar projects in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Amika George is now urging women to take to social media channels to talk about their periods, in a bid to remove the stigma. Writing this week, she said: “Let’s normalise our periods, and finally remove the stigma and shame so that we can achieve real gender equality.”
Another Christian charity, Compassion UK, is also supporting a project in Uganda, in which a father — after seeing the difficulties experienced by his own daughter in coping with her periods — began making reusable pads, which he now sells. The pads cost just $1.50 to make, and last over a year.