Tuesday, May 17th – Wednesday, May 18th:
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we were trained how to teach communities about menstruation. Our trainers were shocked that menstruation continues to be a taboo subject of conversation in the United States. The secret is out, y’all: periods are real. Avoiding conversations about periods is perpetuating embarrassment over a naturally occurring process, which is creating false information about how periods should be managed.
We were told a story about a father who noticed that someone in his family was pulling pieces of foam off their mattresses. He refused to buy the family anything until the perpetrator confessed, but no one spoke up. The father’s son started watching everyone very carefully, and he eventually caught his sister ripping foam off her mattress. He confronted her, but she refused to tell him what she was doing.
When the father came home, the boy told him what he had discovered. The father asked the girl, “why are you destroying your mattress?” But she refused to answer, so her father beat her. When her mother came home, she asked what had happened to the little girl. The girl explained, “I’m menstruating, so I have used the foam from the mattress as a pad. I couldn’t tell that to my brother or my father about it and I couldn’t buy pads, so this was all I could do.”
This isn’t an isolated case. Especially in multi-member households, which are overwhelmingly common here, families can’t afford sanitary pads for every female in their home. Sometimes young girls are even willing to ask male peers for pads in exchange for sex, which lends itself to an entirely different set of problems.
It’s starting to become overwhelmingly clear that this issue is still alive in the U.S. as well. Public restrooms frequently have bins of free condoms, yet it’s rare to find a box of pads or tampons to be used freely. In training, we talked about how there are so many myths and lies that are spread about periods, it was even hard for us to distinguish between fact and fiction.
Instead of fearing a naturally occurring process, we need to start talking to kids about menstruation. There are mothers (here and in the US) who are too embarrassed to even talk to their kids about periods, so it’s no wonder that young people are embarrassed to talk about it to their peers.
Here, we’re trying to create an environment where both girls and boys are able to ask questions about periods. Boys need to be taught to understand the struggles girls must face, not laugh if a girl has bled through her pants. In Uganda, infrastructure must be added, like safe places for girls to change their pads and to wash their bodies without feeling rushed by their brothers and siblings.
That’s why our field work will include all ages (above 10 ish) and genders. We want to help MoH to mobilize the community to work together towards a more inviting experience for people experiencing menstruation.
This issue won’t be fixed in a day, nor can it be fixed by one person. But if we each know the (scientifically based) facts on menstruation, talk about it! There are so many open platforms just waiting for you to share your message.
Thursday, May 19th – Friday, May 20th
First training day out on the field!!!!
After completing our training on Tuesday and Wednesday, we headed out to the first community of the summer. In a car full of 9 adults, we took on the dancing roads and headed out on Thursday morning. It was cloudy and we were worried that the rain would change our plans, as the venue was outdoors, but luckily the clear sky prevailed for the day. However, something that we had not anticipated was the death of an elder member of the community whose burial was that very same day. Because of this, we waited for about an hour in case some other community members decided to come. We expected 50 members and were pleasantly surprised to have 38 in total. Most members were women and girls but we also received men and boys in our training as well. Along with translators, we co-presented various topics related to menstruation such as the definition, myths, and proper maintenance and care during menstruation. However we had to finish early because of the burial but we were hopeful and eager to come back on Friday to start the training for creating the sanitary pads. We received 34 individuals on Friday and most of them were girls and boys. In fact, hardly any of the older women or men returned for the sewing practical. We suspect that this may be due to the older generation feeling uncomfortable with the topic or perhaps feeling it unnecessary to learn how to create sanitary pads. Whatever it may have been, we had a great day and nearly everyone involved left with their own reusable, homemade, sanitary pad.