It is common for teenage girls from rural Ethiopia to live far from their families to attend school. While this can often make their workload lighter as they aren’t contributing to as many household chores, it can add a financial burden and contribute to feelings of social isolation and loneliness. All of this is exacerbated by issues related to menstrual hygiene management.
This is Harifeya. She is 16 years old and is at the top of her 9th grade class at Adigudem Secondary School in a small town in northern Ethiopia. Her aspiration is to become a doctor; she would like to be an obstetrician-gynecologist.
Girls at Adigudem Secondary School have access to more resources than girls at other schools, particularly those in more rural regions. The school has one water tap, though this tap only runs part of the day, and an accessible latrine. Because of these resources, Dignity Period is planning for this school to be a test site for a girls’ latrine with running water.
The school also has girls’ clubs and teacher-mentors, along with health education so that girls are, at the least, aware of what a period is. As noted in our previous post about men’s role in menstrual hygiene, teachers as well as male students have taken a more active role in addressing menstrual hygiene management and breaking through the taboo associated with it. However, the conditions are still less than ideal.
Harifeya is from a farming family in Wujurat, about 22 miles away from the school. Because of this distance, she lives with relatives in Adigudem so that she can attend school and only goes home once a month to see her family. She has an older and a younger sister, ages 20 and 14.
Harifeya started her period two years ago when she was in the 7th grade. She knew from 5th grade health education classes what a period was, but these classes did nothing to change the social perceptions about menstruation – that it is shameful, unclean, and a result of sexual activity – that negatively affects menstruating girls. They also didn’t help her with the practical knowledge she needed to manage menstrual hygiene effectively. Luckily, Harifeya’s first period came when she was at home. Her elder sister helped her manage it and she was able to discuss it with friends.
Before she had access to Mariam Seba pads, Harifeya had to make her own from old cloths. She was constantly worried about leakage or accidents – and the subsequent relentless teasing by boys and younger girls who haven’t yet had their periods.
She is very grateful for having Mariam Seba pads free of cost. She would never have asked her parents to purchase menstrual pads because they do not have enough money, and she’s just too embarrassed to ask. The pads are comfortable and she can wear them all day without having to worry about an accident. Washing is easy and she feels confident drying them with other laundry because, with the waterproof side up, they look like any ordinary piece of cloth.
By providing these pads to girls like Harifeya, Dignity Period is addressing the first barrier that adolescent girls face when it comes to menstrual hygiene: a lack of pads. But this is not the only barrier.
When asked what else she needs, she says that soap isn’t always readily available at home to clean the pads thoroughly. She also believes very strongly that community education would make a huge difference for girls in Ethiopia. There is no reason girls should be shamed for having their period or be afraid to ask for pads from their parents.
We told her we’re working on it.
Harifeya is one of 7,000 girls in 15 schools who are receiving menstrual hygiene pads free of charge as part of an 18-month pilot project to determine if supplying pads and underwear for girls – along with menstrual hygiene education for boys and girls – will improve girls school attendance in both rural and urban schools.