Periods in Ethiopia are often difficult; girls report fear and shame – fear of what is happening in their bodies, and shame from others who are not educated on menstruation and ridicule them. Many girls stay home from school, and avoid friends and family to keep their period under wraps. But times are changing. Because of education, and the drive of girls to advocate for themselves and their friends, menstruation is slowly becoming a topic that girls feel comfortable talking about.
Dignity Period recently hosted an essay contest for girls. Participants were encouraged to describe their first experience with menstruation and to outline what would help to make periods easier. The essays were then submitted to judges from Mekelle University’s Menstrual Dignity Project who chose the three winning essays.
When describing how to make periods better for girls, two of the three winning essayists decided to direct their advice directly to girls themselves, rather than to teachers or their communities. They were full of determination to change the situation.
Here are the top 5 pieces of advice girls in the northern Ethiopian town of Adigudem have for girls around the world.
1. “Girls have to feel proud.” Do not be afraid or shocked – periods are a “gift of nature” and a step toward becoming a woman.
The contest-winning essays all captured this feeling of pride. Girls in Ethiopia should participate in school, and be proud of becoming women. One winner describes her longing to be a boy when she first started menstruating: “Sometimes, I wish I were a boy. Boys live in a comfort zone. They don’t have to deal with menstruation, or suffer from childbirth and so many things.” But she goes on to say, “Now, I am confident to speak all I know about menstruation not only to my mom but to anyone. I have already accepted it as a natural gift and I am proud to be a woman.”
2. You need support, so talk to people about what you are going through. You are not alone; many of your sisters, female friends, and mothers can give good advice. They can also help you explain your period to others, like men and boys, who may not have had any education on menstruation.
One student describes the valuable role her friend played during her first period. After being laughed out of class and embarrassed by ruining her dress, her friend stood up for her, shaming the class for their behavior. She then followed her friend out of the classroom, stopped her from crying, and convinced her to return.
The teasing continued, but the girl was able to get through this embarrassment with help from her friend. “All students were laughing and communicating in our school for one week. I was ashamed. My friend was always at my side helping me feel better. One month later, everybody forgot the issue and stopped laughing, and the shame faded for me. After all this, my friend remains a very important person in my life because she encouraged me to face the challenge instead of running away.”
3. Stay healthy. Eat well, wash thoroughly, and continue to get exercise, even if you feel poorly and you want to be idle and eat junk food. Staying healthy will make you feel better and keep periods regular.
One girl advises drinking hot drinks to ease cramping, another insists that a balanced diet keeps girls healthy during periods when the body is losing nutrients through menstrual blood. Exercise, says one girl, helps to keep her period regular.
Many girls stress the importance of hygiene to health and happiness. For rural girls, this is more difficult than it may seem. Without things like soap and running water, staying clean is difficult. Dignity Period is looking for creative ways to help with these challenges, as they remain a barrier to good menstrual hygiene management.
4. Be prepared. Track your periods so that you can be prepared when it comes. Make sure that your underwear and sanitary products are ready to go when you need them.
Being prepared keeps girls able to face the challenge of menstruation. This is one area where Dignity Period is helping girls in a big way. By providing underwear and sanitary pads for girls to use free of charge, they do not have to use old cloths or dresses or wait on their parents to buy products for them. We help them put together their period survival kit to ensure that they’re ready to face menstruation with dignity.
5. Talk to everyone. The whole community needs to be informed about menstruation in order for the situation to change for girls.
Girls are helping to lead this charge. One contest winner writes, “When there is a special class for females on menstruation, I’m very eager to speak and I advise girls so they do not have to face the same challenges I did. I present poems and dramas about all my experiences for the health club … Many girls face these challenges. Hence, the community has to be aware that menstruation is a natural phenomenon that should be recognized as a gift. Every responsible person or group has to make an effort to change this tradition.”
The winning essay was written by Harifeya, who we profiled in our July blog. Read her story to learn more about her life as a teenager at Adigudem secondary school in Ethiopia.