‘Come and have a look at Agnes, she has blood on her dress. And she smells.’This is the kind of taunting that Agnes, of Tororo district, Uganda, faced from her peers at age 11, when she first began to menstruate. She thought something was wrong with her. She even thought she might be dying.
Agnes and many of her peers rarely learn about their periods. Many are convinced that menstruation is shameful. Unable to manage periods without the proper supplies, girls skip school. Research shows that half of girls in Uganda miss between one to three days of school per month due to menstruation.
Furthermore, taboos regarding menstruation persist. When she first got her period, Agnes secretly and quickly washed her clothes of her menstrual blood, as a friend had told her that her father would go blind if he saw it.When Agnes talked to her grandmother about what she was going through, she was told to use banana leaves to handle the flow. The leaves were quickly spoilt and required constant changing – keeping her out of school.
I hated missing all those lessons. And I couldn’t play with my friends or play football with my brothers. I could only lie in bed
The barriers faced by Agnes and her peers are formidable, but progress is happening as Ugandan girls learn more about menstruation and gain access to affordable and effective methods of handling their periods.
Plan International Uganda supports health classes at Agnes’ school. The classes teach students about hygiene and the changes in their bodies, including periods. ‘Finally I knew what was really going on with me,’ says Agnes. ‘All the boys in the class learned that it is normal for all girls to have periods. They no longer laugh at girls who have stained their uniforms.’
Equipped with knowledge, Agnes finally talked to her parents about her period. She taught her stepmother about menstruation and introduced her to AFRIpads. Agnes’ father, William, even bought a pack of the pads for each woman in his family. William is proud to support his daughter stay confident and clean, and encourages other community members to do the same. ‘Some fathers believe it has nothing to do with them. But I want my daughters to trust me and be open about everything.’ says William
Agnes now supports others going through the challenges she once experienced. ‘If a girl leaks during class I take her to the health teacher for an emergency pad. I take her to the washroom and fetch her some water. I am glad that the children no longer laugh at girls when this happens.’ says Agnes