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‘Moon-Days’ in Adolescent Girls: Confronting a Natural Course

Makapads produced by Makerere University, Faculty of Technology

At fifteen years of age, I had known about menstruation from my girl friends at school. The science lessons had only attempted to teach the human anatomy of the reproductive system but not how to deal with menstruation. I had observed girls go through a number of challenges and shared their dilemmas with me whenever they got their menses. I waited for my menarche with nervousness and fright!

All through my adolescence, I faced a number of challenges. I don’t remember ever using the sanitary pads or tampons at the time. I could not access nor afford sanitary pads; the only material to my disposal for managing menstruation was toilet paper/tissue (though a health risk and unhygienic) nor could I boldly ask my mother for sanitary pads. It’s a taboo to discuss sexual issues with parents. The ‘culture of silence’ is experienced even with menstruation issues. In my community, it is very common for girls to be left to cope alone at best with rags or other insufficient protection.

Adolescence is a critical stage of life for the transition from childhood to woman hood. Many body changes take place and if not well managed can overwhelm and distort focus of the adolescent especially in education. Therefore, this is a period for the formation of the adolescents’ identity and foundation. To me, menarche came with anxiety and fear. Seeing two of my classmates (girls) drop out of school for marriage one year after menarche was astonishing. They were condemned to become wives on the onset of menarche by their parents who saw this as a sign of ripeness for motherhood and marital prospects.

In my experience, the ‘moon- days’ came with depression, embarrassment, mood swings, pain and discomfort. I remember the day one of the top girls in my class (Agnes Aleper) stained her uniform dress in class, this provoked ridicule from boys as well as from other girls. She was accused of having sex the previous day. This is one of the myths still prevalent in my community. This kills the self esteem and confidence of the girl. Probably, the reason I never saw Agnes in school again. The time I stained my dress was such an embarrassment, it made me more scared, stigmatized and discriminated. I was only saved by a friend in class who took me to her home within the school teachers’ quarters to clean up and change.

Some people argue that this condition is merely a natural passage of life, and therefore not a major cause for concern. But it is the challenges it comes with, the interference in the daily routines and its long term effects on the girl, especially if not well managed that are my concerns. These ‘moon-days’ put girls in a disadvantaged position and needs to be dealt with by providing lasting solutions for its management. Studies conducted on girls revealed that 10 percent of girls are likely to drop out of school due to poor menstrual management.

Effects such as dysmenohrroea, cramps, headache and discomfort can be so grave to warrant bed rest and pain relievers. This means missing class and participation is some important activities. Like I was, very few girls are knowledgeable about puberty, menstruation and reproductive health, neither are the boys. Although government of Uganda put a tax waiver on sanitary pads to improve on access and affordability, this price is however still prohibitive especially for households with more than one girl. The Ministry of Education and Sports does not provide free sanitary pads for girls in school citing it as costly. It should be noted that the long-term benefits of providing sanitary pads are big.

Overall, sanitation for girls is very poor in schools in Uganda. Whereas a boy may take only three minutes to use a toilet, a girl may take thrice that time if she is in her menses. Girls need more latrine stances than boys to cater for the long waiting time. Or else she misses part of the lessons. Water is on many instances (if available) far away from the toilets and thus an inconvenience for the girl to clean up. Even the bath rooms are either lacking privacy or absent. Putting on a pad for 10 hours without changing therefore puts the girl at a risk of infection and bad odor.

It high time governments make menstruation management an integral part of the education programme. Provide sex education for students to appreciate and understand adolescence. The sanitation in schools should improve. Include women architects and engineers in architectural design of school sanitation standards for gender sensitivity. Schools should be equipped with sanitary pads and pain killers for emergencies ; free sanitary pads be provided to all schools; promotion of local initiatives like MAKAPADS projects producing free sanitary pads using local materials for sustainability. Overall, provision of girl-friendly health promoting learning environments should be priority of government to keep girls in school.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Girls' Latrine in a School
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Comments

IamTruth's picture

Eye-opening

Dear Ikirimat:

Your story was an eye-opener for me. Well-written and thorough, your story sheds light on the plight of many Ugandan girls who lack the basic amenities for sanitary convenience. I stand with you in your advocacy.

Love,

IamTruth

ikirimat's picture

Thank You Truth, I appreciate

Thank You Truth,

I appreciate you passing by and leaving your valuable comments.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


AchiengNas's picture

Well written!

I thought it is the girls in my community faced with this challenge. Girls still live in fear; intimidated by boys in schools, down at home, not many parents support the girls with the towels. It is an abomination for a girl to mention this to her father in rural Uganda.
The government surely needs to do something about this in schools.
Thank you Grace for sharing this with the world.

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

ikirimat's picture

We share the same concern

Beatrice,
Your comment is testimony that indeed this is a genuine concern that needs to be addressed by the stakeholders with government in the lead. Step by step we shall do work, advocate until things change happens and all girls are in school.

Good bless you

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Wendyiscalm's picture

Thanks for speaking out

Hi Grace,

Thank you for speaking out about this. It needs to be "in our face" a lot as an issue of concern, teaching us to step up. At best adolescent time is difficult. Without the proper pads, etc. and the stigma, it has to be so much worse. I was in Livingstone Zambia last week, and at the suggestion of Urmila another WP person, I asked the women about this issue. In the town it is not a problem but in the small villages it is. They suggested if I could have a company here in the USA send truckloads of pads but give them to a clinic so each month a girl could get them free from the clinic. No one would know why they were going into the clinic. Perhaps for the flu. What do you think of this idea?

Thinking of you and Ubuntu,

Wendy

P.S. Still trying to find a way to download my book in PDF for you Grace. I haven't forgotten you.

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

ikirimat's picture

Oh Wendy, Thank you for

Oh Wendy,

Thank you for taking time to read and give feed back on my article. Yes, you could try using the clinic but the school could be a good place because girls would be motivated to go to school knowing that they will be catered for during this time of the month. Probably use the senior woman teachers/matrons.

While you look out for a USA company to supply the pads to the girls, try out to develop local initiatives that use local materials so that pads can be produced locally. So far in Uganda, MAKAPADS are such an initiatives(you can google search). they use recycled materials.
In regard to your book, wow, I was able to download and was reading it this afternoon. Its really really captivating, I found myself immersed in it. The world needs to read it. I will inbox you more when I'm done.

My kind regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Wendyiscalm's picture

Thanks Grace

Thanks for the suggestions Grace. Makes sense.

Also, thanks for reading my book and giving your opinions. I must say, you will find I was not always a nice person. That is why at the beginning I quote St. Francis of Assis "If an unholy man like me can help, anyone can".

Will be interested in your feedback. And do not think you have to only say nice things. I need to make changes where it is not so good, or add or take out stuff, whatever.

Thanks again, Grace and have a great day.

Love and Ubuntu,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Therese kasindi's picture

Answer to your article.

Hi Grace! I read your article and it remind me a lot of things I saw at school. You are wonderful and I like it. So, for me I was helped with religious at my parish. Also, my godmother also was a good person for me, she tried to answer to all my questions in my adolescence. My father was a teacher in Alfajiri College in Bukavu/DRC, it's a great school of priest Jesuit, but we grew well with small things we had and our father was not complicated, he could also answer to all our questions, and if he saw he is unable to answer you, he gave you a book which he thinks it could help you. In my adolescence, my father tried to bring me some books which could help me at that period and I understood that he was unable to tell me what was in that book.

But around me, many of my friends hit some of the problems you met at your adolescence, it's normal when we have parents who cannot talk to their children and also it's so dangerous because if you have one child who is not intelligent, she can take bad path. I think you are a good mother today and you try to talk to your girls! In schools here in DRC, there is a course called Education to life. In that course, teacher tried to tell taboo subject that parents are unable to talk to their children, they teach and talk openly and students can put all questions they want and in all language they want in order to be understood. That kind of course is so helpful for adolescence.

Thank you so much, I think you will understand my poor English.

See you on line, Mum!

THERESE( Maman Shujaa, Drc)

ikirimat's picture

Dear Therese, Adding your

Dear Therese,
Adding your experience and voice to the dilemma adolescent girls grapple with has just been so fulfilling. For how then can we appreciate this is a problem that needs to addressed.
I also note that you have some sex/reproductive health education programmes in school to provide information to adolescents.
I am impressed by your fathers approach to dealing with the issue. Yes parents need to open up and give their children information.
I once heard someone say "If we don't talk to our children about growing up, someone will talk to them and give them the wrong information"

Thank you my sister for your comments. Very useful.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Therese kasindi's picture

You are welcome my

You are welcome my Sister!
Much love!

THERESE( Maman Shujaa, Drc)

Rebecca R's picture

AfriPads and Diva cups

Hi Grace,

I enjoyed your article very much. I only recently began to think about the effect of menses in education. I missed classes, I have used cloth pads, I have witnessed the embarrassment of staining a uniform but this is not something that is in dialogue. It is therefore very easy to miss it. Like I did.

I got introduced to AfriPads last month though. They are a for-profit company that has a factory in Masaka and make washable pads. I think you might be interested in them as well. If you haven't heard of them yet, and want to check them out, just let me know. I think I have a card somewhere in my pile of collected business cards.

Also still on the menses, I was having a conversation with someone in Kampala once about sanitary pad expenses and alternative uses. I was recently trying out a diva cup. Some people call it a moon cup, but I like "diva cup" :-) The original plan was to try it for comfortability and all that, so that it would eventually be used with women who have fistula. I was to share my experience with them and the different postures that worked for me. Eventually, when I was thinking more about the menses and school girls, I wondered about diva cups and these girls using them. The only problem is that there is such distance between women and their body, I don't know if they would be comfortable with inserting and removing it. What are your thoughts on it? I would like to pick your brain on this.

-Rebecca

ikirimat's picture

Diva

Dear Rebecca,
You give very valuable insights on the menstrual issues raised here.

Yes, I have heard about the diva cup and a friend who used it shared her experience . I agree with you that women tend to have a distance between themselves and their bodies. This was also expressed by my friend. However, the diva cup would provide a good solution to the menses problem since it is sustainable. It can be used for 10 years. Of course there will still be need to provide clean water and facilities in schools to be able to clean up. As for the cost, the one off cost may not be affordable (about 10 USD) to adolecents in rural Uganda but given the fact that one can use it for 10 years, it is worth the cost.

Actually, in my project(Sexual Health Improvement Project) we are trying to get partners to provide pads or the menstrual cup to adolescents in the schools we operate in. We recently got some from MAKAPADS. I will also be glad to get the contact for AfriPads for further discussion.

Rebecca, lets keep in touch.

Regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Rebecca R's picture

AfriPads contact

Hi,

The co-director and founder of AfriPads is called Sophia Klumpp. Her phone number is 0776834481 and email is sophia@afripads.com

I hope she is able to help! She will not give free products since the company is for-profit but a pack lasts for about a year and costs less than UGX20,000. I have forgotten the exact cost and I cannot find it anywhere in my notes but Sophia should be able to provide that detail.

Rebecca

ikirimat's picture

Hi Rebecca, I will get in

Hi Rebecca, I will get in touch with Sophia AfriPads through this contact.
Again, thank you very much. You are indeed a friend and change maker.
I will keep you posted
My very kind regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


jacollura's picture

Days for Girls

Grace,
There is another organization that provides reusable feminine hygiene kits for girls. I would love to discuss getting some kits to your girls.
http://www.daysforgirls.org/
In peace,
Julie

ikirimat's picture

Solution

Hello Julie,

I'm glad that you could find yourself contributing in one way or the other towards solving the problem of girls. My project (SHIP) would very much welcome this partnership of providing reusable feminine sanitary pads for my girls.

Lets keep in touch

Regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Bwela N's picture

Hello Ikirimat, I have read

Hello Ikirimat,

I have read your article and is it very saddening. I can only imagine the humiliation the girls go through.I think this further leads to identity crisis for girls in theses communities which eventually leads to suicidal thoughts. Knowledge needs to reach these rural areas soon. From the home keeping lessons that we girls start getting at a tender age, these issues could be addressed too. The challenge we have is reaching those that do not have opportunities to go to school.

Am ready to help deliver the message within my means if its for a better society.

Regards

Bwela N

ikirimat's picture

Reach out!!

Hello Bwela,
I am very much encouraged by your remarks and more so your decision to reach out to girls in your community with information regarding management of menstruation. I look forward to hearing from you in this regard.
I can assure you that you will have contributed to making a difference in these girls' live

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Grace, you are a dynamic writer. Thank you for this much needed article. I read through all the comments you have received and I totaly agree with you that the place for supplies, support and education around menustration is the schools. You say that would help attract girls to school by meeting a very basic need. Yes! You are so wise to make that point. Grace,I remember you from the last round of VOF. Do I remember correctly that you are in the Bushenyi area? What beautiful country! I remember the hills and the coffee plantations. When I read your writing it is nice to be able to picture your surroundings.

Much love and admiration!
Jana

ikirimat's picture

Oh Jana, I'm excited reading

Oh Jana, I'm excited reading from you. Yes, I was 2011 VOF Correspondent and it such a memorable experience of my life. It has helped me open up to life issues. My project (SHIP) operates in Rukungiri district , just a few kilometers from Bushenyi. Thank you for appreciating my beautiful country Uganda (the pearl of Africa).

Together we can make a difference in these girls' lives.

My very kind regards
Grace

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


smothyz's picture

it's the same here!

Ikirimat,

i always thought this issue is only in my country Kenya. I have been with some girls who have told us how they use socks since they cannot afford sanitary towels. This causes friction at home because when the father does not find his socks, he asks his wife and since she has no clue what happened to the sock, she gets into trouble. Girls use tissue paper as well, rags which is very unhygienic. The cost of sanitary towel is very expensive for the low-incomed families even though our government has set aside some money to supply girls in high school with free sanitary towels. however, i feel that this is a very expensive way to go, there should be other ideas that can help the girls.

The idea of using the re-usable ones also has its downside because there is a shortage of water in the slums and under-developed areas so am left to wonder what to do.

i think the parents especially the women need to get over taboo and talk to the girls about it openly, because most get confused and also the rate of dropping out of school is higher.

thank you for sharing the story, now i know it's not just girls in my country suffering.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only LOVE can do that. -Martin Luther King Jnr.

ikirimat's picture

Dear Smothyz, Sharing the

Dear Smothyz,
Sharing the experience of the girls in Kenya justifies that indeed this is an urgent problem which has been neglected for so long. Now is the time to address it. I strongly believe that if it is not addressed, we shall not achieve our goals on gender equality and empowerment on target as expected. We need deliberate action and should be include at household level too.
I like when you put it that the family gets affected if the issue of the girls management of menstruation is not addressed.

Keep connected

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


smothyz's picture

indeed!

Everyday i keep wondering what can be done to get sanitary towels out there even to the nomadic families and i must admit i get defeated by this question.
How much does a packet in your country cost?

I keep thinking that if women are economically empowered then probably they might be able to spare some amount of money for them and their daughters on a monthly basis for this particular need for its not a luxury but a necessity and i am not quiet sure men do understand this point.
what do you think about this?

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only LOVE can do that. -Martin Luther King Jnr.

ikirimat's picture

yes, sanitary pads are not

yes, sanitary pads are not affordable. at about $ 2 per pack of 6 pieces and yet over 24 % of households live on less than 1$ a day. priority is food , meanwhile it is the men who control resources in a home. so the point you make in making women and girls economically empowered is very viable.

men need to brought on board too

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


smothyz's picture

very expensive

in your country they are very expensive because here in Kenya the least a packet of 8 pieces goes for is less than $1, yet still not all can afford especially those living in the slums.

Yes, i do agree men need to be brought on board and be enlightened on ALL tge consequences of ignoring tht their daughters, wives need proper hygienic care during this period and also tge consequences of using things like socks qnd tissue papers.

it's a fight we have to find a way of fighting and also how to make the sanitary towels reach the poor and the unreachable too.

has your government come on-board on this issue?

blessings.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only LOVE can do that. -Martin Luther King Jnr.

ikirimat's picture

The proposal was shared with

The proposal was shared with the ministry of education but they turned it down saying it was going to be e very expensive venture. The proposal was to supply schools with sanitary pads for free. No sustainable approach is in the offing yet apart from personal initiatives from CSOs , projects but still a drop in the ocean.

There is need for a strong collaborative approach to this problem.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


smothyz's picture

yes there is

am not shocked they turned it down.....it can get very expensive though i think a nation with un-educated people is even worse.

i pray we get to a lasting solution soon.
please do keep me updated on this issue :)

blessings.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only LOVE can do that. -Martin Luther King Jnr.

akaneko's picture

Dear Grace, Thank you for

Dear Grace,

Thank you for using your voice to shed light on this important issue. Your story highlights the problems that can arise from a lack of education about reproductive rights. Open communication about these kinds of things is important to debunk myths and create an open forum where girls can feel comfortable asking questions. I hope that women like you continue to speak out about this issue to raise awareness!

Thank you,

Alison

ikirimat's picture

Dear Alison, You have said it

Dear Alison,
You have said it right, We need to encourage open communication between parents and adolescents on such issues affecting the adolescents. I am surely encouraged to speak out on issues of adolescent reproductive health. The next generation deserves better than us and it is us to make this happen.

Thank you for leaving your valuable comments.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


pelamutunzi's picture

inspired and echoes zimbabwe

i was directed to your post by potter because of my article here for vof 2013 "little light, lighting big torches and burning brightest". m not yet familiar with how to create a link. i am in the same area of work and want to start a simialr project in zimbabwe as this time is leading to lack of development and poor perfomance by girls at shcool. you are writing learning biology in class is a drop in the ocean about what happens in reality we need to speak out. hope you read my article and share ideas on how to propel my vision and see it become a reality in zimbabwe.
looking forward to further communication with you
rgards
pelagia

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

ikirimat's picture

Dear Pelagia, I'm glad you

Dear Pelagia,

I'm glad you found something useful in my writing. Im also glad that you are one of those dedicated to contributing to addressing the challenge of girls menstruation management in your community. I am open to further communication and sharing ideas/networking for the sake of our girls in the world.
Just inbox me and we will take on from here.

My kind regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


ikirimat's picture

Dear all I read this story on

Dear all
I read this story on VOA : "In Malawi, Sanitary Pads Help Improve School Attendance for Girls"
(http://www.voanews.com/content/in-malawi-sanitary-pads-help-improve-scho... )

I am delighted that this is a practical example of a solution that has worked. It gives me more strength that we too can learn and replicate this best practice in our commuinities.

Im trying to get in touch with a local NGO doing the same. I hope to lean from them

Keep sharing

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Lea's picture

Thank you for sharing this

Thank you for sharing this wonderful essay with us, Ikirimat!
It's painful to read that many girls are deprived of knowledge about menstruation and are made to feel ashamed of their monthly bleed. Even worse, owing to a lack of support and information, having their period is seen as a trauma and dreaded every month.
I'm very sorry to hear that you had to experience this as you were growing up.
You are really doing an amazing job in educating girls about menstruation and reproductive health. I applaud you for your efforts and for introducing them to Makapads-what a great invention!-a far greater and safer alternative to tissues and toilet paper. I have also heard of the diva cup and was wondering whether that, too, could be an option even though, I agree that the cost is a great hinderance.

The government definitely needs to make more of an effort to faciliate access to sanitary pads and to provide more information about menstruation and reproductive health in the schools.

Thank you again for all of your hard work and dedication.

ikirimat's picture

Dear Lea, I m humbled by your

Dear Lea,
I m humbled by your words. I now know and appreciate that it was worth speaking out on this subject. Along the way, sisters have shared their thoughts, experiences that is worth sharing. I have got even more insight into what is happening in a broader perspective.

Indeed , this is a problem we urgently need to deal with both at household and policy level. We shall continue persuing solutions through advocacy and engagement of various stakeholders.

Together we will achieve!!

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


In the Karamoja region, a girl in her menstrual days has to be isolated in the outskirt of the homestead. " she sits under a tree on a heap of sand for the whole day during her entire period, missing school for 2-6 days" UNFPA annual report 2012. The Girl Kit is being distributed by UNFPA to needy girls in 24 schools and this has made a big difference in the girls lives. Senior women teachers testify that the girls confidence levels have improved.

This is a good initiative for this disadvantaged girls.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


trucker1's picture

sand heap

Ikrimat, these stories of the phlight of young disadvantaged youth is quite disturbing. Thank you for your journal writings.

ikirimat's picture

Thank you Terri for the

Thank you Terri for the feedback. Im glad we have partnered to ensure these plight becomes history among girls. I appreciate your contribution.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


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