Compiled by Patrick Mwesigye
Founder and Team Leader – Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum
“When I am in my periods, I avoid going to school, because of fear to stain my uniform and get embarassed before the boys” noted Faridah 15 years a Senior 3 student of Kawala College School in Lubaga Division, Kampala Uganda’s Capital.
This was at one of the regular school health outreach conducted by Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health www.uyahf.com on the 21st of June 2015 at the school.
The school outreach was held under the Girls Health Empowerment and Promotion project whose overall goal is to empower and equip adolescent boys and girls or 12 -24 years with knowledge and skills that effect change in their lives and that of their peers and communities by making informed choices and advocating for promotion and respect of the rights of young people like; the right to health, education, access to quality sexual reproductive health information and services, prevention of gender and sexual based violence, end to all forms of stigma and discrimination, end to teenage pregnancy and child marriages, and increased access to sanitary materials and integrating these in Uganda’s development priorities.
Students and teachers listen in to Paul Webs the UYAHF Program Officer as he makes introductory remarks during the during the session.
The highly interactive outreach session facilitated by the UYAHF project officers brought together over 300 students and their teachers. The focus of the session was on promoting menstrual hygiene and management and breaking the barriers that impend adolescent girls during their periods.
During the session, participants were split into two groups according to their gender to promote privacy and confidentiality and encourage dialogue, participation and opening up by all participants.
Our staff Annah and Paul facilitated the focused group discussions for girls and boys respectively.
The discussions featured core knowledge on menstrual hygiene and management, touching on key issues that ranged from;
- Puberty and the key changes that happen during this stage for both girls and boys. In an interactive way the participants themselves contributed to the discussions by noting some of these signs below as key signs of puberty, namely; “growth of breasts, growth of pubic hair, getting attracted to the opposite sex , gals starting to menstruate, growing hips, deep voice for men, developing funny smell among other changes.
- Anatomy; external and internal body part especially the sexual reproductive organs and the description of their functions,
- Menstrual cycle including the 4 key stages where key events take place i.e; the steps that define menstruation as a continuous process with slow progressions and overlap between stages.
Annah, the UYAHF project officer for the Girls Health Empowerment and Promotion program informed the girls that; there are no “safe days”. It is possible to get pregnant if a woman has sex without contraception at any point during the menstrual cycle because; “The egg may still be inside the womb and does not break, another egg may have already been released as part of the next cycle or Sperms can remain in the womb for 2-3 days.”
She also went ahead to note that; Menstrual blood is the lining of the womb being shed out because fertilization has not taken place. It is not harmful or dangerous, and if the egg is fertilized it implants in the womb lining and this becomes the placenta. It contains proteins and nutrients which help a baby to grow, she added.
Anna also taught the girls about the irregularity in their periods and she noted that; in most cases girls worry about being different from their friends. This is normal she noted, and everybody is different. Some women may start their periods at 8 years while other at 16 but both are healthy.
Ann also went ahead to teach the girls how to I wash their virginal, how often to change a pad and through a role play by the girls themselves, pad demonstration was done especially for benefit of who have not yet started their periods. These had not only never seen a pad but also didn’t know how it’s used.
Prefects of our Kawala Secondary School pause for a group picture with Paul Webs the UYAHF program Officer after the session.
The girls in the feedback were inquisitive to know;
Why at times they miss their period or have longer periods than others. Christina 13 years and a Senior 2 student was quoted asking; “ I sometimes miss my periods and my friends have told me that I may be infertile and will never give birth.”. Mercy 25 years also inquired about the major caused that lead to irregular periods
In her response, Annah noted that; some women and girls have short cycles so it’s possible for them to have more than one period in a given month.
She added that irregular cycles and missed periods are not related to infertility. Women with irregular cycles can conceive and have a baby.
On the Common Causes of Missed Periods/Irregular Cycles she gave the following causes; Emotional stress, Malnutrition, strong physical exercises, Age (the first 5 years from starting her periods and nearing menopause), Pregnancy, Contraceptives which contain hormones (e.g. contraceptive pill, depot injection) among others.
The girls also mentioned and discussed the major challenges they face during menstruation and according to them, these ranged from;
Lack of access sanitary towels. “I don’t have enough money to buy pads and when I ask my mother to buy for me pads she says she doesn’t have money, while I fear to talk to my father about my periods noted Brenda 14 years Senior three students.
Faridah 15 years and a student of Senior 3 also noted that when we go into our periods most of us who can’t afford sanitary pads chose to stay home to avoid staining our uniforms as this embarrasses before the boys who make fun of us all the time.
The girls also noted that the school key facilities for proper sanitation and hygiene. For example, the school has no private places like bathrooms where the girls can change pads during their periods and freshen up just in case they need to.
The school also lucks proper disposal facilities for these used pads. We throw our used pads in open buckets with no covers are scantily placed in our toilets which are sometimes used by boys or teachers, noted Magie 16 years, the Health prefect. One of the teachers was also qouted saying that quite often; the school experiences water shortages whic makes life hard for these girls to clean up themselves so generally girls in this school don’t enjoy menstruation at all.
On the side of the boys, Paul the program Manger at UYAHF and Joshua a Volunteer at UYAHF took the boys trough a series of leanings about what periods mean for girls the stress, pain and trauma they go through.
The seemingly excited boys could not hide their vibrancy in the discussions, despite some being shy and wanting to go around the bush. They boys were concerned about the common cases of girls staining their uniforms and wondered why the girls cannot control this. “It’s shameful for those girls to start bleeding in class and my dad told me it’s taboo,” noted Ashraf 16 years a student of Senior 4.
Henry 16 years a student of Senior 4 noted that girls who stain their uniforms in class, embarrass themselves and we can’t stop to laugh and make fun of them.
Kavuma Allan 19 a senior 6 student was also noted saying that while at home when her sister goes in her periods, their father and mother do not allow ther to cook or serve food since they she is unclean.
Right from the discussions, it was clear that so many myths and misconceptions surround menstruation and render girls stigmatized leaving them in the face of gross discrimination and inequlity during their periods.
Paul told the boys that menstruation is a normal process for all women and girls in the reproductive age and it’s a proper sign of showing that the girl is healthy. He added on that when girls are in their periods or about to start their periods, they undergo pain and emotions; Such pain and emotions could at times include; abdominal and back pain, back and leg pain, headache and breast pain, feeling sad, lonely and angry among others.
With such pain and emotions, Paul noted that girls need to be loved, cared for and comforted to under such hard times. Girls under go this process every month and there is no scientific evidence that has proved that periods make women unclean or less of being human. In actual sense periods make women normal, healthy and active just like the way boys have wet dream and an erection every morning. Paul called on the boys to be brand ambassadors for improved menstrual hygiene and management to support girls go through menstruation with dignity.
In conclusion boys committed to being brand ambassadors for promoting menstruation with dignity while the girls committed to doing all within their means improve hygiene while in their periods and to continue to advocate for access to menstrual hygiene materials and facilities since menstruation with dignity is their right.
Patrick Mwesigye the founder and Team Leader at UYAF in his closing remarks delivered by Paul, noted that UYAHF, a youth led and youth serving organization working in Uganda is committed to working with young people to address their health gender and livelihood needs through; empowerment, advocacy and capacity building with a goal supporting them to fulfill their potential and achieve their drams and feature aspirations. Young
Patrick also noted that it’s the responsibility of all of us to work together and develop interventions that increase efforts to ensure that all adolescents and youth have the knowledge, skills, and opportunities for a healthy and productive life, and enjoyment of all human rights. Adolescents and youth are diverse and not all face the same risks, constraints, and deprivations. Ensuring their healthy development requires making the health services and system work for adolescents – but also addressing risk factors in the social environment and focusing on factors that are protective across various health outcomes including the enabling legal and policy environment.