Erasing the Blood Stain
I remember at the age of thirteen shortly after my arrival in the UK, standing outside Mr Donoghue’s music classroom waiting for him to open the door for us so we could start another pointless keyboard session. I stood in the corner watching the rest of my classmates make noise and draw fake tattoos on each other with a red and black permanent marker. As I looked inside my bag for my school journal, I missed Kristy pulling out a sanitary pad and sticking it on Mr Donoghue’s glass door. Adam brought out the permanent markers from his school blazer and coloured it red whilst the rest of the class erupted in fits of uncontrollable laughter.
I was angry and squeezed my eyes so tight to stop myself from crying; not because I was missing home, where such nonsense and disrespect would never be tolerated but because they were wasting a sanitary pad that a girl our age in a developing country needed just to make it to school.
A research project in Ghana led by Professor Linda Scott from the Oxford University Said Business School showed that there is a direct link between the lack of access to sanitary products and girls’ underperformance in school and absenteeism. According to this research, post-pubescent girls missed school for at least five days every month and at home their chores and day-to-day activities also became limited. Furthermore, the study combined the provision of sanitary pads with educating girls about menstruation and hygiene; after six months there was a reduction in the rate of absenteeism and it was also noted that girls were better able to concentrate in school.
Girls at that age need support and education because they are at risk of being taken advantage of, and their parents also need to be educated about the importance of doing their best to keep them in school. In Kenya, research found that due to poverty and misinformation, girls were using their mother's sanitary napkins and were in extreme cases pushed to reuse soiled sanitary pads which could lead to diseases and HIV. Menstruation is a significant change in a girl’s life and can lead to early marriage which can in turn lead to complicated pregnancies and increased maternal mortality. In some cases this change can also mean vulnerability to prostitution for young girls who have dropped out of school.
MDG 3 is about promoting gender equality and empowering women – one of the ways to do that is by ensuring that there is gender parity in primary and secondary education. When girls continue to miss school, they eventually drop out because of low performance. Bilateral agencies, governments, INGOs and grassroots organisations need to invest a lot of money, time and effort in all the little things that affect girls in a big way. Providing affordable sanitary products to girls and women, educating them about menstruation, hygiene as well as safe ways to dispose of the products is as important as raising awareness about HIV/AIDS in my opinion. Call it farfetched or insane but the role of women is changing and she needs to be educated for the sake of her family’s wellbeing.
There is a common saying that goes, ‘educate a man and you educate an individual, educate a woman and you educate a family’. The purpose of this article is not to dismiss the importance of the boy child’s education rather it is a call for us to change our attitude towards girl education and see the true value of such an investment.
Menstruation is a rite of passage into womanhood; not a bodily dysfunction that should stain more than just your panties.