Photos by Joni Kabana
MOST AMERICANS DON’T THINK TWICE ABOUT PERIODS.
The first menstrual experience for American girls, while sometimes awkward and embarrassing, is seen as a natural transition into womanhood. After a relatively short time, menstruation becomes little more than an inconvenient but manageable part of life.
In Ethiopia, menstruation is a taboo subject and is rarely discussed publicly or privately. As a result, girls’ first periods usually take them by surprise. Without a basic understanding of menstruation and how to deal with it, many girls feel alone, ashamed, and fearful, particularly if they are in school when they first get their periods.
Compounding these problems, most women in rural Ethiopia cannot afford to purchase sanitary pads and must make do with inadequate local substitutes like old strips of cloth, dry grass, or nothing at all. This leads to frequent accidents, recurring embarrassment, and shame. As a result, menstruating girls often stay home from school three to five days per month, fall behind in their studies, and end up dropping out. This is a tragic loss of human potential, which no country can afford.
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