Empower girls to pride in their femininity
Fourteen- year- old Amito Jessica is in primary seven. She will sit her national grade seven examination in October this year. Amito has missed school for a week now! Reason being she is in her monthly periods and she can’t go to school for fear of embarrassment. When she had her first period at school she soiled her uniform. “I did not notice, she said. When I stood up to answer the teacher, everybody sitting behind me laughed! I didn’t realize what they were laughing at. But later I realized I had stained my skirt…! I felt so embarrassed and hated myself! I missed school for two weeks because I couldn’t stand the shame! At school when your periods start people including classmates say you are old and have started having sex. I swore never to go back to school when my periods start,” narrates Amito.
Amito is just one example out of the thousands of girls having similar experiences.
For the seven years I worked as Editor of Straight Talk an adolescent health newspaper, I received thousands of letters from young people with problems ranging from body changes to managing boy-girl relations. However, among girls aged 10-18, most questions were about menstruation or connected to puberty. Reading all these letters and remembering my own childhood made me realize just how many girls were still worried or confused about menstruation.
Menstruation happens to all women of reproductive age group but still remains a mystery. This is partly because; many parents find it difficult to talk about periods. It is perceived embarrassing if someone discovered one is having their periods hence making it hard for girls to openly ask about it. More still, lessons in school about periods and growing up often tell girls too little too late and the information that parents or schools give is often academic rather than practical. What girls need is how to manage their periods amidst the many myths and confusions surrounding menstruation even among adult women.
More than half of Ugandan girls who enroll in grade one drop out before sitting for their primary school-leaving examinations. The fact that girls are dropping out between age 11 and 13 is being linked to the beginning of the menstruation cycle and its associated challenges. Dropping out of school affects girls in the long-term by limiting their future aspirations.
Research conducted by the Forum of African Women Educationalists in 2009, reveals that the lack of sanitary pads, coupled with other factors like the absence of water or separate toilet facilities for girls in schools, is responsible for the drop-out rate. Also taboos and silence associated with menstruation in many communities mean some girls are unable to ask their parents for money to buy pads, and are forced to have sexual relationships with older men who can provide the cash. This results in unwanted pregnancies forcing girls to drop out of school.
Teen Empowerment Uganda (TEU) is set to reverse this trend by inspiring girls through knowledge and skills to help them pursue their goals. Through our Girls Comfort Program, TEU is developing a simple pocket book to help answer some common questions about periods and how to manage it without compromising on their education. Teachers, parents and counselors will be encouraged to use it as resource when teaching or talking about menstruation to girls. Discussions and dialogues will also be encouraged. The intention is to dispel the silence and empower girls to appreciate their femininity through knowledge sharing, positive thinking, goal setting, courage, inspiration, assertiveness, self-esteem and resiliency.
TEU is a non-governmental organization aimed at empowering teenage girls and boys with skills that will enable them make positive choices in their lives. TEU views the process of empowerment as a way to nurture individual growth and human potential that can be transferred to societal growth. TEU envisions a society where teenagers are empowered to realize their potential and commitment to lead purposeful lives.
My participation in the fellowship program will lead to additional exposure through collaboration and networking with like-minded individuals and groups. This will enhance TEU’s quest for innovative and sustainable solutions to teen empowerment and fighting poverty.