Fifteen-year-old Ruth William loses her self-confidence each time her monthly period starts. She was always mocked by her school mates because of the stench that followed her all through the period.
“Whenever I was in school and I am in my menstruation, people complained that I have offensive odour. Some said to my face that I was smelling and irritating. It used to bother me a lot and made me to keep to myself until I approached my guidance counsellor in school who asked me how I handled my menstrual period.
“She walked me through the process of menstrual hygiene where she thought me to at least have my bath two times a day and also change my pad twice a day. Since then, no one has complained that I gave off offensive odour,” Ruth said.
Until this succour came, Ruth didn’t find delight in going to school whenever her monthly visitor came visiting and even at home she was told it was a taboo to mingle with people or to enter the kitchen.
Another student, Faith Ibrahim, also recounting her experience, said whenever she noticed her menstruation had started she stopped going to school until she was through with it. “I was always worried when I remembered how I would be embarrassed because of my stained cloth and this kept me back at home,” she said.
Eneojo Mariam, from one of the junior secondary schools in Abuja, also said the first time she witnessed her menstruation was in school and that she was so scared because no one had told her how to handle it.
Health experts and advocates have named “period poverty” as the main reason why young girls routinely stayed away from school, especially in developing countries. ‘Period poverty’ is when a girl cannot afford menstrual products during menstruation, which is approximately four days every four weeks. Such girls would often resort to unhygienic practices.
One in 10 African girls misses school during their periods, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, estimates. This means they fall behind in their studies and often drop out of school.
Ruth, Faith and Mariam were among beneficiaries of the ‘Always Keeping Girls in School (AKGIS)’ project, a key intervention programme targeted at enhancing girls’ knowledge and practice around reproductive health through life skills training, provision of emergency sanitary kits, renovation of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities and mobilisation of stakeholders’ support for Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools implemented by Mercy Corps and sponsored by Procter and Gamble.
The Programme Director, Mercy Corps, Joy Aderele, said AKGIS is all about girls, improvement in their knowledge and practices, adding that it is one thing for people to know and another for them to do.
“We are not just giving them knowledge but ensuring that WASH facilities are available in the schools where the girls are and they are able to access pads, because we don’t want them to be absent in school.”
Aderele said absenteeism leads to dropout and they want the girls to complete their education because if a girl completes school, she will earn four times than a girl who didn’t go to school.
“Over 1800 girls have been reached directly on this programme and over 10,000 indirectly because the girls reach out to their friends and we also have gender assembly where the girls reach out to the boys,” she stated.
The Director, Global Government Relations, P&G, Temitope Iluyemi, said their decision to partner with Mercy Corps was informed by the brand strategy which is to enable girls to live their lives to the fullest no matter the period.