Menstruation is the most dreaded time for adolescent girls and women in poor communities such as those in Mbando village, Machinga District, Malawi, where Abundance works. Why is such a natural health cycle, so difficult for them? The girls describe it as a time of anxiety and worry.
“When I get periods, I use pieces of cloth and am worried that it will fall off when I walk. That would be so shameful! So I don’t go to school those days. Also, it is difficult to sit on the floor while having periods, as our school does not have desks and chairs and we sit on the classroom floor.”
-A girl in Chirimba Secondary school, Mbando village.
Our rapid assessment in the village revealed that lack of access to and inability to afford proper sanitary napkins, caused the girls to resort to poor menstrual hygiene practises. Only three out of 53 girls surveyed at Mbando village have ever used proper sanitary pads. Lead by Abundance Director Ruth Mumba and her team, a one day training workshop (22 July 2017) was held at Mbando village on production of reusable sanitary napkins. The training was in response to a request from mothers in the village, who were concerned about young girls’ menstrual hygiene and related impacts.
Abundance Menstrual Hygiene Training
Grace Moyo began the training by first removing the “social stigma” on menstruation. “It is healthy to menstruate and you should not be ashamed of it. If you are a girl, you will menstruate”, she told the girls. She reiterated that being teased by their peers should not let them down, in fact, menstruation should be viewed as a sign that they are fit. Reusable sanitary napkins are made from used cloth and shaped like proper sanitary pads, but have an addition of buttons on the sides to secure them. Thus the worry that the cloth may fall off is no longer there and this gives confidence to the girls. Furthermore, the pads are something the girls can make on their own with a little training. They can be washed and reused, thus being an inexpensive and sustainable solution.
In the large classroom of Mbando village’s Community Based Child Care Centre, girls grouped themselves into groups of 6 and began making the pads with help from Ruth Mumba and Grace Moyo. Used cloth was sourced by Ruth from the local markets and sewing kits were purchased which was distributed to each group. Every girl got a small sewing pack which she could take home with her and continue making pads at her home. Care was taken to include aspects of washing pads with soap and drying them thoroughly before use, in the training.
Present at the workshop was the “Mothers Support Group”, which is a volunteer group of women in Mbando village who support women and children and help bring back children who drop out of school. They welcomed the training as a means to reduce girls’ absenteeism in schools. But there were also a pleasantly surprising cascading effect from the training. The Chairlady of the group said, “Because of this workshop, I believe that not only will the girls help themselves, go to school during periods, but, they can also use the skills to make pads and sell them for an income.” The possibility of income generation movement from this workshop was a positive spill-over that Abundance’s training did not expect, but happily welcomed.
Making reusable sanitary pads is not just a menstrual hygiene project, it has multiple benefits of improving confidence in girls, reducing absenteeism of girls in school and possible income generation venture. This is one small way Abundance is trying to help communities in Malawi. Let us break the silence about menstruation and promote dignity for girls!
Written by Deepa Pullanikkatil (PhD)