Girls in Ireland and girls in Uganda grow up miles apart, but the shared experience of menstruation means they face similar problems in dealing with menstruation.
For one, they learn to feel ashamed of their periods from a young age.
Caoimhe, 19, Dublin, remembers it well.
When I was younger, I felt the need to hide my period from both my family and my friends.
In a recent study in Ireland, it was found that 61% of girls are too embarrassed to talk about their period.
And without prior education about menstruation, the experience for girls can be extremely traumatic. In Ireland, 15% of girls didn’t know what was happening the first time they got their period.
For Pauline in Uganda, it meant missing two months of school. She had never heard about menstruation so she was horrified to find her skirt soaked with blood in front of all her classmates.
“The boys started laughing at me and I felt ashamed,” she recalls.
I did not go back to school for fear of being embarrassed by boys.
She only agreed to go back when her mother agreed to transfer her to another school.
Pauline’s reaction might seem extreme, but she’s not alone.
Help girls in Uganda manage their periods in school:
61% of Ugandan girls miss at least a day of school every year. The average school days missed are one to three days per month.
The figures are similar in Ireland.
61% of girls surveyed have missed school as a direct result of their period. 88% feel less able to pay attention during class.
In Ireland, girls also feel stressed by the cost of a pack of sanitary pads. Caoimhe is now a University student and is struggling to afford what she needs each month. The average cost for a pack in Ireland is €4.50.
In rural Uganda, the cost can put a serious strain on a family’s finances. Girls are unable to afford to buy sanitary pads. They either stay at home or rely on materials such as stones or dry banana leaves to protect their clothes.
Despite a progressive move by the Ugandan government in 2017 to remove tax on sanitary pad purchases, an average pack still costs around €1.80 which can be more that a days wages for some.
In Uganda, the inconvenience of menstruation can cause them to drop out of school altogether, making them far more likely to end up in early marriages or become teenage mothers.
€25 could help 8 girls access a kit containing underwear and reusable pads and stay in school another year.
Since 2015, Plan International has been working alongside the government in Uganda to provide menstruation training for pupils and teachers and monitor the standard of menstrual hygiene facilities in schools.
Girls between the ages of 11 and 18, along with their male classmates, are coming together to learn about periods in Menstrual Hygiene Management Clubs.
They make reusable sanitary pads out of cotton and plastic, which the girls can take home. In making the pads, the young people share a responsibility which would otherwise be borne by the girls alone. And with access to these necessities, they can focus on the their studies.
But other factors need to be acknowledged. Lack of privacy and bullying from classmates also result in girls dropping out of school.
The clubs also use song and role-plays about periods to combat negative social norms, and to eliminate stigma.
George, the school’s headmaster, notes:
Before, boys used to laugh at girls and tease them especially when they soiled their clothes, but now they support girls instead of teasing them.
For students like Pauline, this has come a little late, but she welcomes the open conversation that the younger generation is starting about periods. For girls like Caoimhe in Ireland, the conversation is just beginning.
At Plan International we work to dispel the stigma and shame that girls feel about their period. Help us to break the silence. Let’s Talk. Period.
€50 can support Plan International in running Menstrual Hygiene Management Clubs.