27 May Menstrual Health:Why It Matters To Me
Welcome to period stories on “My First Time” .We feature girls and women who share their experiences to inspire and raise awareness on Menstrual Health.They reinforce our commitment to raising awareness around Menstrual Health as we celebrate International Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28th May 2020 and everyday.
“When girls feel supported and loved during the puberty years, they become self-aware, build confidence and self-esteem to get back and stay in school. Overcoming stigmas around menstrual health and discrimination help vulnerable girls have equal access to the STEM resources and role models InspireHER STEM provides.”
Emma Mitchell, Founder InspireHER STEM, where no girl is left behind in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and leadership skills development.
Menstrual Health: Why It Matters To Me
Yep. That’s an actual thing.
As long as I can remember, month after month, my mum and I had to choose between basic needs and sanitary towels. Mum had to decide whether to buy food or a packet of pads. And even when we could afford the sanitary towel option, I still had to stretch one pad to last a full day.
Imagine having to wear one pad for an entire day. By midday, you’re already starting to smell, and in two hours, everyone you pass can tell it’s that time of the month for you.
As if period pain is not enough and the shame that comes with being on your period, everyone around you is looking at you weirdly and mocking you in harshed tones. Simply because it’s either you wear that one pad or a folded piece of cloth that’s most certainly going to leak in no time and have to walk in shame with a big red patch.
Yes, that’s what period poverty is all about.
My First Time
My period started in class 5 when I was ten years old. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was an early bloomer compared to my peers. Back then, menstrual health lessons would start in class 6, as that is when puberty would hit most girls. Unfortunately for me, my period started before I had the lessons.
Here I was sitting in class 5, then I get the urge to pee. So I stand up to go to the washroom. Then all over sudden, everyone gasps and then goes quiet. You could literary hear a pin drop. I had no clue what was happening, and as I started walking out, the teacher called me back in. She closed the door and announced to everyone, “Emma, you are now a woman.”
A woman? What in the world did that even mean? I woke up a class 5 girl and now just like that I was a woman! I froze for a second unable to move. My eyes were wide open. I still didn’t know what was happening.
The teacher was kind enough to give me her sweater to tie around my waist, and then she shushed me off and told me to go home and talk to my mum.
It’s when I started walking home that I realized there was blood rushing down my thighs. Oh, the horror I had no clue as to why I was bleeding. I was not in any kind of pain, and I couldn’t spot any injuries. Now in panic mode, I started running home, but home seemed like miles away. I couldn’t get there any faster.
Finally, after a torturous journey, I got home. Never have I been so happy to see my mum. One look at me, and she knew what was happening. Mum hugged me as she cried (she always cries about everything). Then she helped me take a bath, folded some pieces of clothes, and stuck them to my underwear with masking tape. This woman never lacks one of these in her house to date. Masking tape and I now have a different relationship. It was the glue to my pant when I needed it.
Then we had the “Talk.” Mum explained what was happening to me. To this day, I am forever grateful for that talk. She went in-depth about the changes happening to my body. She sadly explained to me that there would be times when I’d have to wear rags from her sewing kits, but sometimes I may be lucky and have sanitary towels or even tampons.
Later that day, when my dad and brothers came home, she told them I needed space as I was going through a female phase. I remember we were having our usual story time, and my period story was the story of the night. She made them understand that my body was changing, and there would be days I may not feel well, and so my brothers were not to disturb me. I can’t even imagine a girl who has never had this talk. It is an essential talk of a girl’s life.
The next day, mum went out of her way and bought both pads just to teach me how to use them. She also showed me how to neatly dispose of pads like a lady. It was one weird moment watching my mother demonstrate this but the best lesson of my life.
Like any African mother, she ended the talk with a warning that from now on, if I played with boys, I would have a baby, and I would have to go look for a job. So for a while, as much as I was a tomboy growing up, I avoided boys like the plague lest I got a baby.
Why Menstrual Health for Me?
When girls feel supported and loved during the puberty years, they become self-aware, build confidence, self-esteem to get back and stay in school. Overcoming stigmas around menstrual health and discrimination help vulnerable girls have equal access to the STEM resources and role models InspireHER STEM provides. It is a natural process that should be celebrated and not victimized. According to UNESCO worldwide, 131 million girls are out of school — and 100 million of those are girls of high school age.
EquipHER. InspireHER. ConnectHER with appropriate resources and role models and keep her in school so she can STEM.
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