“I had no idea what was happening” – A turning point for girls Menstrual health in ‘Lago’
“I felt embarrassed to be a girl and felt like it was punishment,” recalls 16-year-old Kadiatu*, describing her first period.
She was leaving for school, in her village of Logo, in Kenema district when it happened for the first time. Her mother taught her to use a cloth to manage the blood. “I was not knowledgeable about how and why it happens, and what to expect. So, naturally, I was scared and confused. I will never forget that experience,” she explains.
Kadiatu is far from being the only one. Girls in Lago lack basic knowledge about their sexual and reproductive health and struggle to access menstrual health supplies to manage their menstrual hygiene. Many grapple with shame and taboos surrounding menstruation. These issues undermine girls’ health and rights. Girls can be subjected to stigma or miss school due to difficulty managing their menstrual hygiene. Kadiatu understands these challenges. “I hated going to class,” she told DCI-Sierra Leone.
An estimated one in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school at some point during their period. Improving sexual and reproductive health can yield a significant return, by increasing women’s and girls’ participation in education, sustainable community and national development and the economy. But there are enormous challenges that must be addressed first.
African sexuality is very much a taboo. However, not talking about sexual reproductive health perpetuates stigma and discrimination. Access to sexual education is vital not only for menstrual literacy but also for self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.
Before the intervention of DCI – Sierra Leone, many women in Lago, including girls like Kadiatu including girls like Kadiatu, lacked knowledge on the use of sanitary pads. “When I’m menstruating, I usually use strips of absorbent cloth. That was all my mother taught me”- Kadiatu said.
Fortunately for Kadiatu, she participated in a UNICEF-supported Life Skill training organized by Defence for Children International – Sierra Leone, and it changed her life forever. There, she learned skills to break down taboos as well as to build positive norms around menstruation.
Today, while Kadiatu effectively manages her menstrual period, she advocates among her peers in schools and communities, and tells them about the importance of using sanitary pad to manage their menstrual period.
“I have now taken it upon myself to help other girls in school experiencing their first menstrual period,” she says. “Now I know that it’s a normal human body function and there is no need to be embarrassed.”
* Replacement to protect the child’s identity