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Part of shaking up change in the menstrual health world means acknowledging the lack of access to affordable menstrual products and adequate hygiene conditions that many women face in low-income areas in the UK and across the world. Whilst we a lack of transparency in the menstrual health sector and toxic products, women and girls in in low-income areas struggle to even gain access to affordable and safe period products.
Unfortunately, these issues are often accompanied by a whole lot more, particularly in a developing country context – lack of education and information available on menstrual health, ongoing social and hygiene taboos, and a shortage of clean water and waste disposal facilities. So we’re starting in Zambia, where girls in rural community schools are missing up to 5 days of school a month due to the structural and gender discriminatory factors in their communities. The first step is to create enabling environments which not only give girls the tools to manage their period with dignity, but that also reduce the stigma around menstruation and encourage better hygiene conditions which overall improve girls human rights.
In December, we officially started working with the incredible organisation The School Club Zambia (SCZ) and began by conducted a two day workshop at Kariba South Primary School for the Grade 9 girls and a few girls who had already unfortunately dropped out of school. This workshop acts as part of the three tier program that makes The School Club Zambia’s operations so integral in improving menstrual health management in Sinazongwe district in Zambia. Of the girls involved in the workshop, 50% said they were embarrassed, angry or sad when they had to talk about puberty and menstruation. 20% of the girls said that they miss school regularly when they menstruate, and almost 50% of the girls could not correctly name one part of the female reproductive system. So overall, not so different to the bombshell that hits UK girls when puberty finally comes around. The main difference, is the scale to which girls are missing school in developing countries in comparison to the UK.
During the workshop the girls learnt about the female reproductive system (how many of you can name all the bits of a vagina?!), the menstrual cycle, how to manage their periods safely, and how to use yoga to cope with period pains when pain killers aren’t accessible. The two days of workshops taught the girls how to make reusable sanitary pads out of locally available and eco-friendly materials. Each girl went home with 3 reusable pads from the workshop, as well as a pair of underwear. Having access to reusable sanitary pads is important, but equally so is having a pair of clean underwear to put them in (N.B Damn straight important reason to put girls voices at the centre of the projects and ask them what THEY need to succeed).
Sharon, one of the badass girls who took part in the workshop, talked to us about how she felt afterwards:
Before the workshop I was not proud to be a girl, much worse when I start menstruating reason being I didn’t know how my body worked, how many days does a girl menstruate and how to manage the period pains. I used to be so sad and uncomfortable whenever I was on my periods but now I feel so proud to be a girl because I now know how to manage myself whenever am on my periods and people won’t even notice it. I also didn’t know how many times should one bath when you are on your period but I now know that as soon as the pad is wet I need to bath and change it. Being part of the workshop was the best thing that has ever happen to me in a long time and looking at the long-term effect the knowledge impacted in me will be applied on a daily basis of my life.
One of the best bits about the workshops are the incredible facilitators. Alice Simakala is the Gender and Youth Officer and has been with SCZ for 15 months, she facilitates all the Girl Sanitation Workshops and is incredibly feisty about educating and empowering girls in Zambia. Mrs Chidamba is the lead tailor at Kariba South Primary School Tailoring Centre and she teaches the girls to how to make the reusable, eco-friendly sanitary pads. Together, they provide a safe space for the girls to learn and feel supported to ask ALL the questions they need to ask (seriously, nothing is off limits here).
For every month you subscribe to OHNE, we’ll continue to work with SCZ to improve menstrual health for young girls living in rural Zambia. Together, we’ll make a significant, sustainable change which will ultimately enable marginalised girls and young women on the program to take command of their own potential. It’s about bloody time don’t you think?
Watch this space Babe, we can’t wait to show you what we’ll be getting up to with SCZ.
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