In May, WomenStrong Consortium member Alice Visionary Foundation Project used their Girls’ Empowerment Clubs in public schools to teach reproductive health, with a special focus on the changes and challenges girls face when they reach adolescence.
To help mark Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, several schools used their weekly Club meeting for how-to demonstrations on topics such as how to use a sanitary pad. Girls shared their experiences and learned how to manage their periods in an environment where water is scarce, toilets are few, and very little support is offered to girls going through one of the most important biological changes of their lives.
Getting up to speak in front of a group of your peers is daunting in nearly any circumstance, especially for teenage girls, who already face peer pressure and have little experience in public speaking. Plus, the topic, menstruation, isn’t an easy one and isn’t openly discussed – although it should be, and often!
As you watch 14-year-old Risper Achieng demonstrate how to use a sanitary pad for her fellow students at the Manyatta Primary School Girls’ Club in Kisumu, Kenya, we think you’ll be impressed with her confidence, mastery of the material, and her presence as a speaker and an empowered young girl:
We were so inspired by her demonstration that we spoke with Risper afterward, to ask her about the presentation and her experience managing her period:
How did you feel about being selected to do this presentation?
I felt very happy to be the one presenting this information to my fellow pupils on ways in which you can wear pads. I felt confident because I had already experienced using the pads for one year and was already taught by my mother on how to use them.
How did you feel when you were giving the presentation?
When I was giving the presentation, I felt very uneasy, because I thought my friends were going to laugh at me for the things I was going to share with them. But I stood up for myself and felt very courageous afterwards.
Why did you think it was important to give this presentation?
I think it was [an] important presentation simply because there are so many girls in our Club who have not yet started their period, and they don’t even know how to wear the pads. The menstrual hygiene education provided in our Girls’ Club has encouraged me and my fellow Club members to stand up for ourselves and have better self-esteem.
What was your own personal experience when you got your period for the first time?
When I first got my period, I was in the rural area, going to fetch firewood. After some time, I went to the toilet and noticed blood was on my panties. I rushed to my cousin to ask for help. She went to the bedroom and took a piece of cloth out for me to use, because she had no extra pads. After several days, my cousin got some money and went to the market to buy me some pads.
Like Risper, young women in many countries face a lack of menstrual supplies or the money to buy them. But Risper was lucky because she had access to information through her mom, as well as a Girls’ Club for support. In many places, girls lack both, and face shame and ostracism over a natural process. They miss school or drop out altogether because of their period, putting them at a financial and educational disadvantage, compared to boys, and setting them up for a lifetime of disempowerment.
Girls’ Clubs like AVFP’s in Kisumu are essential to educating girls on reproductive health, helping to break the silence around menstruation and remove the stigma that keeps girls out of school. In this, they join organizations around the world seeking to do the same. And girls like Risper, brave and determined, are on the forefront of the effort.