13-year-old Cephas is in his final year of junior secondary school. A few years ago, he and his friends used to make fun of girls when they had their period. Growing up, he was told that girls were unclean and should be shunned whenever they were menstruating. But today, after joining a health club set up at his school by Plan International, he is now a champion for girls’ rights and a strong advocate for girls’ menstrual health management.
Cephas lives with his family in the Volta Region of Ghana and has three sisters. As a young boy, he saw how badly his sisters were treated when they had their periods, forced to stay separate from the family because they were considered to be ‘unclean’. In school, because he could not tell if a girl was menstruating or not, he and his friends distanced themselves from the girls, believing that all girls were dirty.
“In this community, there is a myth around periods and it is noticeable in the way women and girls are treated. When girls have their periods, they are separated from their families and treated as outcasts,” he says. “Girls are not allowed to cook for the family or touch anything belonging to the family during their periods because they are unclean.”
Because of the shame and stigma girls are forced to endure, many miss school when they are menstruating and some drop out of school altogether when their periods start. As part of a rural water, sanitation and health (RWASH) project in the region, Plan International set up a health club at Cephas’ school to discuss menstrual health and hygiene management with the students.
Initially, the boys were unwilling to join the clubs, but one boy did come to the meetings and he convinced Cephas to join the club as well. In the two years that the club has been running, Cephas says he has discovered many false superstitions surrounding menstrual health and is challenging these barriers by helping with the distribution of sanitary pads and spearheading a health campaign that is challenging negative attitudes around menstruation in his community.
“It is my dream to see boys and men embracing the thought that menstruation is a natural occurrence in the lives of women and girls and not to be seen as unclean. After learning so much from the health club, I feel bad about how I have treated my sisters,” he says.
Cephas says his biggest achievement so far has been to change his father’s mindset on menstruation. “My sisters can now sleep in the house during their periods. My father has come to realise that no evil can befall his household with them being a part of the family when they are menstruating.”