Our elders say “Experience is the best teacher”, therefore, I would want to commence this with what experience has taught me.
The happiest moment in every girl’s life is the beginning of her “menstruation” although it is frightening.
I woke up around 3am on one Thursday morning, my tiny shorts felt heavy. What could have missed it way into my underpants? I opened my legs to find out what had lost its way. Gosh! I screamed and woke my poor mother whist my daddy was busily sleeping.
Mummy smiled at her eleven years old daughter: “Congratulations, my dear. Welcome to womanhood”.
You can just imagine my state of confusion.
“You have started menstruation, my dear, and it is a sign that you can become pregnant”. Pregnant!! A girl in class four!! An eleven years old girl! I thought.
The other day, Adobea told me about the ten year-s old girl in her village who gave birth to twins and I won’t be an exception. Our last lesson in school on adolescent reproductive health thought taught us that teenage sex could lead to teenage pregnancy, then mummy is right.
So the next thing I did was to learn how to wear my sanitary pad.
My lessons with Abena my cousin wasn’t as easy as I thought. Learning how to wear a sanitary pad was a bit tough. The first day I tried on my own, I disgracefully soiled my uniform and I couldn’t stand the agony I had to go through especially with the boys in my class.
I remember the day I used a rag because I had bleeded for 16 days and my pad had finished – the punishment I got for eating “sweets”. The rag experience was my worst moments; the scent that emanated from the rag, the stains it left on my white dress and how I had to run home and missed the buffet party.
Not to talk of the cramps!!
I have experienced the pain for 12 years now. Wow! It’s quite a number.
Mummy said when a woman is in labour, it is two times the menstrual pain. In my mind was a ridiculous picture of the woman in “Efikesemu” which literally means “big house”. She must be congratulated and celebrated; she has given birth to thirteen. Yes, ten plus three.
I wish words could permit me to paint a picture of the pains called “cramps” so our men can truly appreciate us women, but I don’t know the right words to use; like a thousand needles roaming in your abdomen. Sometimes when we are moody, it is as a result of the very thing called “cramps”: stop concluding that women are pompous.
Sometimes we really want to talk, sometimes we wish we could laugh out loud, hang out with you, go to beach, the movies, just name it. Every now and then, we wish we can spend more time with you but it always remains a dream, and our actions are misconstrued.
When mummy thinks we are lazy because of the very pain. Even when we try to explain why we can’t do the chores, we are told we are always using that as an excuse. Up unTill when are “You” going to understand how we feel?
When employers will employ more men than women because they think men can work more due to the “monthly cycle”. Okay, perhaps you are not aware; let me tell you of the numerous women out there who are working out their brains and are doing better than men. Just to mention a few, the likes of Gifty Anti, Oprah Winfery, Nana Aba Anamoah etc.……
When we cannot tell our male friends that we are in our period because we are shy.
When we cannot tell our lecturers and teachers that we are in pain and that we cannot take that test.
When women are not supposed to cook when they are in their period because they are believed to be unclean.
When husbands and brothers will not eat food prepared by wives and sisters because they are in their period.
When husbands will refuse to sleep beside their wives because they feel they are not hygienic.
When our brothers cannot dialogue about menstruation with us because it is not the norm.
When in countries such as Botwana you cannot say a woman is in her “period” because it is believed to be a shame.
When we cannot openly talk about menstruation, Reproductive health and its complication because society frowns at it.
When we feel shy to walk to the shop and openly say we are buying a sanitary pad.
When we have to hide pads in our towels and sleeves when we are going to bath because we don’t want anyone to know we are bleeding.
When we are misinformed by doctors to break our virginity to avoid severe menstrual cramps.
We are tired of hiding our feelings and pains. Period is never a shame. If not, “You” wouldn’t have been a part of us here on earth. Stop abusing us., Stop humiliating us. Stop treating us like outcast.
Getting your period in a developing country means taboo, poverty, inadequate sanitary facilities, lack of health education and culture of silence where girls and women are denied what should be their basic right: clean and affordable menstrual materials.
At least 500 million girls and women globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods,
according to a 2015 report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Forbiden Stories
In some parts of Botswana, topics on menstruation are spoken in hushed tones. Older women treat it as a secret; it is something to be spoken about with older women. Women whisper and men distance themselves from it. It is called “Aunty Flo” or “visitor”. To hear someone, say menstruation is embarrassing. The stigma around menstruation, gives little room for dialogue. The culture in Botswana excludes women from cooking, praying and sometimes going to school.
In some parts of Nepal, a country in Asia, women are made to leave in “Chaupadi shed” in the hills of Legudsen a village in Achham District in the Western Nepal. “Chaupadi” is a tradition observed in parts of Nepal which cuts women off from the rest of society when they are menstruating. Many women in Nepal are said to be impure and are isolated from their homes. The vast majority of Nepal’s population is Hindu. Their culture sees menstruating women as toxic. -if they entered a temple, they polluted it; if they handed the family’s food, everyone would become sick; if they touched a tree, that tree would not bear fruit. Women die in the shed, and they live like animals. It’s shameful.
In Ghana the story is not different, the stigma around mensuration gives less room for dialogue. It is treated in secrecy; one cannot openly say mensuration because it is embarrassing. In our High schools, period is given different terms. In my school it was called “Aunti”, others call it Red Red, Kumasi Asante Kkotoko, etc. In some Regions in Ghana period is treated as a shame. Women in their periods cannot cook for their husbands and brothers neither can they sleep beside them because they are believe to be unhygienic. It is surprising that a 21st century woman has never seen nor used a sanitary pad. As a result, some girls sometimes stay out of school when in their period for the reason that they might stain their uniforms because of the rags they use. To others, they use rags because they cannot afford sanitary pads.
In 2015, an online debate erupted as a result of a tweet by a feminist and filmmaker in England who goes by the name @ molssimp. When she tweeted:
“If you can afford to give boys free condoms, you can afford to give girls free tampons. Menstruation is a lot harder to refrain from than sex.”
This is one of the questions that women have had to ask. Why is there still a tax on women’s sanitary products?
In Africa topic of menstruation is not freely discussed – and when it is discussed, it is overshadowed by negative cultural beliefs.
What Is The Way Forward?
We need to move beyond the humiliation of menstruation. Educating boys and men on the importance of open discussion on the subject is key because men make up a larger section of government and corporate policy-makers in Ghana and Africa. It is time we come to believe that menstrual health is not just a “women’s issue” but “everyone’s issue”: women cannot champion enterprise growth in Africa if their menstrual health is not given due consideration and attention.
Government must end import tax on women’s product so that everyone especially the grassroots can afford and if possible government can give free sanitary product to less privileged girls.
In England, a Bristol company has adopted a policy for women with the justification that “letting women take time off during their menstrual cycle will make workplace more efficient and creative”. The company said:
“The purpose of the policy initiative is to create a positive approach to menstruation and the menstrual cycle that empowers women and men and supports the effectiveness and well-being of the organization.”
Companies in Ghana and Africa can equally adopt this strategy to empower women and girls .
Female’s health should be prioritized and sanitary product should be made available and accessible to all.
The negative perception about mensuration is as a result of culture and societal practices. Since culture is dynamic it is time for leaders and government to change the status quo to drive development.