Activists teach students menstrual health and hygiene
By: Sheila Ponnie
In South Sudan, a group of men and boys seek to break cultural taboos, surrounding the discussion of a topic that often drives young girls out of school. “Men4Women organisation “has been distributing menstrual pads to girls.
The objective is to rally men and young boys to support these young girls, encourage the conversations and government policies to make sanitary hygiene products more accessible to girls in the country.
Menstruation stigma demoralizes young girls and is one of the causes of school dropout among them. Traditionally, it’s a topic that even moms fear to discuss with their daughters and it is even more a subject men have not been open to discuss, yet this is a group that see it differently.
The “Men4Women” events are visual and practical sessions, attended by both male and female learners, teachers and health experts who respond to questions and concerns. The “Men4Women” activists discuss with the girls the various aspects of reproductive health and even demonstrate how sanitary pads are used. As the families begin to move back to villages and back to schools from IDP camps, these discussions become increasingly important.
Sunday Joseph grew up in a family of 12 children in South Sudan’s capital Juba, she said when she reached puberty, her family couldn’t afford sanitary pads.
Speaking in local Arabic, Ms. Sunday said, “Whenever my period came, I would use pieces of cloth or sometimes toilet paper to help.”
At school, Sunday was teased, and the shame was too much. She dropped out, became pregnant, and never went back. Today she cleans offices to provide for her child.
Emmanuel Gordon is the Director of Men4Women, an activist group of men and boys working to prevent the same fate for other girls and eliminate period stigma by teaching menstrual health and hygiene in schools.
“Boys are the ones that do a lot of period stigma to girls. When they see stains on the girl, they laugh at the girl. Why we are involving them is that we are trying to tell them that this is a natural thing. “He said
At the Happy Angel Primary School, the group handed out sanitary pads and even demonstrated how to use them. Golden Kiden John was one of the girls in the class.
“At first, I feared because there were questions and I didn’t know how to answer them. But at the end, I felt good, and I am very grateful.” John said.
Esther Akumu, South Sudan’s Director General of Gender Equality was caught off guard.
“I am actually impressed, because it’s the first time I think in the country for men to talk about menstruation.”
She said Menstruation has been a silent thing and it is only to be known by women and girls and only talked about by women and girls, not by any man or any boy.
“And that’s where you find when it is time for menstruation, girls have a lot of discrimination. They are silent by their own community and parents where by the culture itself does not even allow men to talk about it or know about it.”
She added that in some cultures, it becomes an indication that a girl is ready for marriage.
“And these are some of the things that make the girl to be removed away from school as soon as they have their menstruation. That they are ready for bringing money for the family for wealth for the family.”
Men4Women is helping girls without access to sanitary pads to avoid being isolated and cut off from the community, but they are also educating South Sudanese boys.
Khamis Charles leads some of the classrooms discussions at Happy Angel Primary School, said that he felt so proud to have acquired the knowledge about menstrual health and he encouraged the girls not to shy.
“I would like to encourage some of the boys that don’t laugh at the girls when they are in their menstruation period, let us not laugh at them because it is natural and it is normal.”
Khamis explained that when we the boys laugh at the girls it is not good, we are supposed to encourage them or when we have money so that we will have to give them to go and buy the sanitary pads so that they will wear.
Esther Akumu says it’s time to break the silence on menstruation in South Sudan and Men4Women is a good step forward to do that.
“I would like to advocate that this team should come to the ministry, we see how they will progress, and we give them an introduction that later they will have no obstacles when they go to the schools,” Akumu said.