When I heard that there would be a lockdown as a result of COVID-19, the first thing that occurred to me was to buy more sanitary pads. I had some at home that would last for two months, but if I would run out of anything, I didn’t want it to be pads.
Periods for me are already uncomfortable and the last thing I wanted was to add the discomfort of not having sanitary materials. This shows how important periods are to my life, to the life of girls and women.
Sadly, it is also something we—female and male—have been socialized to see as shameful—something to hide. You are not expected to talk about your period to the hearing of other people. If your dress ever gets stained in public, you should be ashamed of yourself. Nobody should ever see your sanitary pads. Hide them.
During my undergrad at Nsukka, I walked into a shop at Odenigwe one evening and asked for Lady Care. The young man tending the shop brought two packs of Lady Care, put them in a translucent nylon bag; but as soon as I was about to collect them, he quickly said “sorry” and went in search of a dark bag. When I asked him why, he gave me a look that suggested I was supposed to know better. I returned the look with my own, “Na period I see; I no kill person” look.
This is the attitude I have had about periods for some years now. But I wasn’t always like this. I used to be ashamed of menstruation.
I used to be ashamed of even saying that I wanted to buy pad. I was socialized to be ashamed. Good thing, I know better now. I have set myself free from that bondage of shame and subtle social bullying, but I know that there are many girls out there who are still ashamed of periods.
When we accept this shame, then we can’t talk about our menstrual health, which is an integral part of our lives; we bury every form of conversation on menstrual health education. And since many mothers buy into this culture of shame, they fail to educate their daughters about menstruation.
Why is this a problem?
A 2019 report by the Guardian has it that a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Kenya took her own life after she was period-shamed in class by her schoolteacher. The teacher called her “dirty” and asked her to leave the class. It was her menarche, as her mum later confirmed; nothing had prepared her for that experience in class.
“A 2014 Unesco report estimated that one in 10 girls miss school during menstruation, which means they miss out on 20% of their schooling each year” (The Guardian, 13 September 2019).
I think it is important for us to lift the dark veil that has long been used to cover women’s menstrual health. I think we should start having conversations about this. Women and girls should not be made to feel ashamed for their natural biological processes.Tweet
I have always had this big dream of making enough money so that I can regularly distribute sanitary pads to girls who can’t afford them or sponsor individuals and organisations that are already doing this. But I have decided that I can do something else while I wait. While I wait, I could encourage a conversation around this.
In January this year, I began to volunteer with Days for Girls to help make sustainable sanitary pads for less privileged girls. I volunteer a lot, but I realized that Days for Girls was more than just volunteering for me. I felt drawn to the project; I felt a passion that came from a place of knowing the darkest sides to periods. That was when I began to feel compelled to talk about periods.
When I received the email that our Days for Girls monthly meeting would not be held in March because of COVID-19, I understood, but I also felt bad because I knew that periods were respecters of no pandemic. Periods don’t lockdown unless you are pregnant. Girls and women will still have their normal experience: those who have cramps will still have cramps; those who have heavy flow will still have heavy flow. Nothing changes.
That said, while I wait for #StayAtHome to be over so that I can go sew sanitary pads with Days for Girls, I will be joining the conversation about menstrual health education, specifically to encourage the removal of the dark veil that has long been used to cover menstruation. I want to encourage women and girls to get comfortable talking about this important aspect of our lives.
I invite you to reach out to me if you want to talk or have a story about menstruation that you want to share. Every girl/woman has her menstruation story and she should feel comfortable talking about it if she wants to.
Today, May 28, is Global Menstrual Hygiene Day and as the MHD organization has rightly said, “periods don’t stop for pandemics” and “MH Day 2020 is Happening. Period.
Written by Hope Eze
What are you doing to end the stigma around menstruation? Volunteer where you can. Contribute when you can. A little here and there from everyone and the world would be a better place.