How do you think we finished school even before these pads existed?” My 62-year-old friend challenged me with these questions early last year. This was months before the issue became the hot cake it is today. She described how every Ugandan woman in her generation, school-going or otherwise, had made their own sanitary napkins from whatever materials were available. They had gone about their lives normally without such aid. So is it really periods and lack of pads keeping our girls from school?
I have been interviewing educated middle-class women from my generation and even some young millennials. Many of them improvised their way through adolescent periods. This includes a few who attended highly prestigious secondary schools. Some of them used white cotton strips of cloth, washing them thoroughly in-between uses. I remember once or twice running out of pads. I took emergency measures then went to class as usual.
Is it true that Ugandan girls don’t go to school while in their periods? I ask this with sincerity, because this a lot of school to miss. What research has been done?Who did this research? Where? When? How did they arrive at the statistics? What was their methodology? Who reviewed that research? Who funded that research?( Please post actual references, links proof, photo-captures etc.) If it is true that girls miss school during their menses, is it simply because they lack pads? Might there be other factors which have been downplayed or ignored? What else might be keeping these girls out of school?
In handing out pads are we really solving a problem or are we creating a problem of unnecessary dependency? What do the girls do on those days that they are not in school? Surely they don’t sit on buckets for days to drip-dry! I have heard that some sit on piles of clay all day. Where does this happen? How did our mothers go to school (or go about their lives if they didn’t go to school)? Did our grandmothers refuse to dig when they were in their periods? Did they excuse themselves from village functions and lumbés (funerals) because they were having their monthly flow? What did they use? How did East African women manage their periods for millennia?
If we must assist, can’t we find cheaper ways? Could we distribute absorbant cotton cloth and waterproof materials and teach these girls to make their own pads? Perhaps we need to teach them that going through periods is neither a handicap nor a sickness. Must we get used to factory-made pads or inserts, which might not be good for our health? What about the impact on the environment? Can we not find out what materials are already available in communities? Can’t young women learn dignified, self-sustaining, healthy ways to manage their periods and stay in school?
Let us interrogate this issue together.
AKA Sue ANIQUE.
Image: Stella Nyanzi at a #Pads4GirlsUg fundraising event.