Adolescence is one stage in life that throws up a host of unbearable challenges for most rural girls. It is well known that the human body goes through several inevitable changes.
Dealing with menstruation is often a thorn in the side to most girls from disadvantaged communities.This natural process comes as a problem to women and girls, especially those in rural areas. The exposure to health risks cannot be underestimated and in some cases, school girls drop out of school. For young girls, menstruation is an addition to a heap of gender disparities they face their adolescence stage. In order to curtail the flow of monthly periods, some rural school girls use anything from rags, tree leaves, old clothes, toilet paper, newspapers, cotton wool, cloths or literally anything that can absorb the flow. Most girls from poor, rural communities do not use anything. They develop a low self-esteem that affects their self-confidence later in life. In a recent visit to Binga’s Kariyangwe village, girls said they were not attending school when on their menses because of the stigma they face from their peers at school.
A pupil at Manjolo High school said being “on” is the most painful and sordid time in her life and contributes to school dropouts. “When I’m on monthly periods I don’t go to school because the boys in my class always laugh at me. The reason they laugh at me is that they say I’ll be ‘flowing’. I usually use old newspapers hence they can’t hold the flow of blood. I end up staining my uniforms. “When I’m on my periods I feel so embarrassed that’s why I opt not to attend lessons because I’ll be afraid to stain my clothes since I don’t have any protective pads”, she said timidly. She says in this remote village, to talk about menstruation issues is taboo. There is a great degree of silence. Women are also afraid to say anything – a situation that even hinders adolescent girls’ access to relevant information about their bodies. “In our society menstrual blood is treated as unclean and harmful. When I’m on periods I’m not allowed to go to church because it’s believed that I’ll be unclean. The problem is that my parents never taught me anything about being on periods. I only read about it at school. “When I’m on menses I’m also restricted from participating in some activities for fear that I may contaminate others and the things that I may touch. For instance, I’m not allowed to be in the kitchen to cook or to do the dishes, and/or to participate in games with other young people. This in turn fosters stigma in me as these restrictions create the perception that menstruation is shameful,” she said.
Pretty Mwembe, a villager, has also been a silent victim of the stigma attached to menstruation for years. She opines that the transitional phase in life from childhood to adulthood should be celebrated instead of being labelled as a curse. “This stage is marked by biological changes such as increased body size and the ability to reproduce or to think critically. However, for most girls in Binga, this phase often brings challenges that drive girls out of school and social activities, making the celebration fleeting. “The government should make it a point that pads are provided in schools so that girls use them freely. Teachers and parents should be friendly enough to discuss issues affecting these children so as to avoid shame”, said Mwembe.
Many non-governmental organisations like Lupane Women’s Centre and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation have tried to help rural girls by giving them re-usable pads and equipping them with skills on how to knit and use them. Lindiwe Ndebele, an advisor at SNV, said lack of knowledge and understanding about menstruation in most traditional and conservative communities was a key source of stigma about being on menses. “There’s a culture of silence around menstruation leading to the menstrual process being viewed as a weakness of women.
The subject is hardly ever discussed in families, resulting in it also not being an easy topic of discussion. “The inaccessibility of menstrual products results in embarrassment, anxiety and shame when girls and women stained their clothes, which is stigmatising. I’ve travelled to many schools in Masvingo and schoolgirls described menstruation as a time of anxiety and discomfort especially at school, leading to low concentration in class,” she said.