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School Hygiene Program Breaks Stigma About Menstruation

In Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, the poor hygiene, lack of sanitation, and low quantity and quality of drinking water contribute to the overall poor health of Malawian citizens. Young children have a difficult time attending school due to this, and these issues are only amplified when girls start menstruating. This is why the charity, WaterAid, implemented female hygiene programs in primary schools.

The students of the Mloza Primary School Sanitation Club in Lilongwe, Malawi is one of these programs. Students create reusable sanitary pads with cotton, waterproof lining, and flannels. The club welcomes both girls and boys.

“The boys assist us in making pads,” said 12-year-old Angelina Jumula, a member of the Mloza club. “Girls are not ashamed to talk about their periods, or to play sports during menstruation.”

The goal of the club is to empower girls by allowing them to make their own sanitary pads, while the boys can help make them for their sisters. Some are even sold in the community for a low cost.

Prior to the introduction of the club, the lack of sanitation and girl-friendly facilities in schools caused many girls to skip school during their period. As girls in these kinds of educational institutions grow older, the dropout rate only increases.

“Girls’ attendance in schools has significantly improved since the program was implemented,” said Catherine Mangani, a teacher at the school, as well as the matron of the club.

Making the pads keeps the girls in school, because they are provided with material to manage their periods. Since the program also teaches students about menstruation, the stigma around periods is vanishing, easing anxiety about attending school during menstruation.

Malawi isn’t the only country benefiting from the WaterAid program. Other countries where the program is present include Uganda, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Mozambique.

The program is doing wonderful things for these countries; however, there are still problems with reusable sanitary pads. If they are not cleaned and dried, they are no longer safe to use. The program teaches students how to properly clean the pads, but the stigma that still exists in these countries may prevent them from doing so properly.

This means that along with the need for clean water and sanitation facilities, there is a huge need for the myths around menstruation to be addressed.

16-year-old Sonal Vankhede’s life, for instance, was changed because of the work and discussions generated by WaterAid’s programs. She would miss school because her makeshift sanitary pads made her too uncomfortable and embarrassed to attend.

“I realized periods happen to every girl after I attended a session by WaterAid in my school. When I first discussed the importance of menstrual health hygiene with my mother, she told me this information was irrelevant,” she said. “Every time I attended a session, I shared the details with her. Eventually, my mother agreed to buy me pads. Now, she understands the myths… in fact, she does not say ‘no’ to anything.

The dialogue about menstruation needs to be opened amongst these communities. If it is, perhaps more girls will experience the revelation that Sonal did. WaterAid is a great step forward for female education, as well as for the normalization of menstruation.

Featured Images by Newtown grafitti on Flickr

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