Taking the Stigma Out of Menstruation in Uganda One Girl at a Time

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When I was in primary five, most of the girls I studied with were a lot older than me. We used to hold meetings after class where our female teachers would talk about our bodies and how we should manage ourselves when we start menstruating.

One day my friend Gloria got scared by the things her body was doing. Seriously concerned, Gloria ran to the teacher, who was in the middle of class. “The boys I sit with have put a razor blade at the desk and it has cut me,” she told the teacher. The teacher explained to Gloria that she wasn’t injured, gave her a piece of cloth to insert in her underwear and told her to go home.

The next day Gloria felt comfortable enough to talk to her Mum about what she was going through. Two weeks later, our teachers talked to the girls in the school whom they thought were about to start their periods. This was an amazing occurrence to happen in Uganda. Nobody in Kenya ever talks about these “embarrassing” topics. Even though I hadn’t started my period yet, their talks emboldened me. I was eager to start menstruating.

Gloria and I took a lot of initiative by following up what we learned in the meetings, such as using cloth pads. Before we had this information the girls used leaves from cassava plants and others used to tear mattresses as menstruation pads. Some girls used banana leaves but they are slippery. Being prepared with this information allowed us to feel free and without worries when we are with are friends, even if we are menstruating. In the past, girls were uncomfortable thinking that they may bleed through their clothing. Leaves and mattresses aren’t very absorbent or comfortable.

I now attend every woman’s session at school. Our group in these after-school sessions use to be small, just four girls. But because Gloria and I seem so confident and know so much about our bodies, more and more girls are coming to the meetings and are also being taught about the periods. I always tell my friends how I feel privileged being a woman.

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