AMINA Salum is a form two student at one of the schools in Dar es Salaam. When she was standard six, she experienced her first menstrual period in the classroom.
Regarding her condition, she was even horrified to walk, prompting her to wait until her then fellow pupils had left classroom before she also left for home.
“It was a painful experience. And I felt shame because my skirt was in bad shape and worse enough there were neither water, first aid kit nor other supportive facilities at school,” she said.
After making sure that all pupils were out of classroom, she narrates, she decided to take off her pullover and wrapped it around her waist to cover her skirt which had a red stain. She went home where spent three days, returning to school some days later because her menstruation was associated with headache and stomachache.
Her mother took her to dispensary for medication.” After three days, she was fine but she didn’t want to return to school immediately after she learnt that her colleagues in the classroom were discussing about the blood spot seen on the desk she was seated, asking themselves about what could have happened to their fellow pupil because some of the pupils were not yet taught about menstruation cycle and how to handle it.
*Rehema Pastory not her real name) says she loses two to three days each month she enters her menstrual period. According to Ms Pastory, her menstrual period in most cases is accompanied by certain unbearable pain.
She says at one point of time when examinations were around the corner she faced similar bad experience and since it was out of her control, she was forced to stay at home for three days.
The facilitator for Youth, Gender, Development and Public Health issues, Mr Donald Donald says, despite the challenges girls are going through during menstrual periods, the matter is normally kept a secret.
The consequences of the habit, according to the facilitator, causes embarrassment not only to the girls themselves but also to the boys as well because they are not enlightened on the matter.
“Boys don’t know about this issue…and they feel embarrassed by girls who are in the menstrual period,” he says. He adds: “In most cases, boys don’t know how to support their counterparts who fall in such situation and others find themselves making jokes.”
The gender and health expert gives an example of a male Form Two student in Dar es Salaam (name withheld) who told him that he was surprised to see a girl bleeding in the classroom.
Not only in schools where girls experience difficulties upon being in their menstrual period due to lack of supportive facilities as experience shows that their fathers are also not aware of the situation their daughters go through.
“Traditionally, the menstrual period is not something that is discussed openly at family and community levels,” says Mr Donald, adding that “girls are suffering because they have no financial resources with which to resolve the challenges facing them and worse still majority of them keep quiet despite pains.”
According to Mr Donalds, researches and reports shows girls, especially in rural areas end up using some clothes or some materials that are not ideal. “Sanitary wear during menstrual period for our girls is a serious problem.
Fathers don’t see this matter as a duty that falls within their parental responsibilities. Even brothers at homes are not supportive at this particular time. Hence girls carry this burden by themselves.”Mr Donald explains.
Mr Donald cited a report made public by BBC recently in which it was stated that some women have been experiencing extreme pain during menstrual period, pushing some countries to introduce a ‘menstrual leave’.
Such policy guarantees women suffering from extreme period pain one or two days off work. This arrangement already exists in several countries around the world, according to BBC’s feature titled “Can ‘Period Leave’ Ever Work?” Countries that have adopted such a policy, according to BBC include Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and some Chinese provinces.
Under menstrual leave in the said coun tries, only few are taking the advantage of it while others fear sexual harassments. Gender Budgeting Activists say Rehema and Amina fall in the group of many students who do not attend schools for approximately 30 to 40 days per year because of the menstruation –related complications.
While there is no special programme to compensate for the days lost, sanitary infrastructures are not supportive enough to accommodate challenges that girls go through.
“Girls do not attend classes during menstrual period and there are no mechanisms in place to enable girls feel comfortable while they’re in their ‘period’ like pains killer and sanitary wear such as pads,” says Lilian Liundi, the executive director for TGNP Mtandao at Gender Festival 2017 in Dar es Salaam.
As women in Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and some Chinese provinces get paid two to three days leave each month, TGNP Mtandao and other activists in the country are urging the government to come up with gender-centered budgets to address genders related issues facing girls in schools.
It is believed that girls become losers due to their biological nature compared to boys, prompting TGNP’s Ms Lilian to suggest that “there should be a special programme to compensate for approximately 30 to 40 days that girls fail to attend classes due to the menstrual period related complications.”
Apart from that, she states, district councils should prepare gender sensitive budget that will enable the provision of free pads to girls and construct specials toilets, dumping areas and first aid kits in public schools.
On the other side of a coin, The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training’s National Strategic Plan for School Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (SWASH) 2012-2017, the gender and disabilities have been considered as cross-cutting issues that require special attention.
The SWASH plan, whose goal is to promote environmental health, safety, and well-being of school communities through the provision of adequate and accessible safe water, sanitation and hygiene services in schools, states “the cross-cutting issues will be taken into consideration gender and disabilities of school children and staff to ensure equity and inclusion during SWASH implementation.”
Kisarawe, Kishapu living examples After being enlightened on difficulties that girls go through during menstrual periods, which subsequently force girls to miss classes between 3 to 4 days each month, making between 30 and 40 days each year, Kisarawe and Kishapu District Councils acted.
Putting aside their political parties affiliations, the councils from the two districts agreed to set fund from internal sources to buy sanitary pads. Currently, girls at Kishapu and Kisarawe public schools are being provided with free sanitary pads, thanks to the gender budgeting lesson from Tanzania Gender Networking Programme.
During a 14th Gender Festival at TGNP’s Mabibo offices, Kishapu District Community Development Officer, Joseph Swalala said his council spends up to 4.7m/- every year to buy sanitary pads for girls leading to the improvement of girls’ health at schools However Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who officiated the 14th Gender Festival event organized by TGNP Mtandao at Mabibo in Dar es Salaam, presented certificates of recognition to the representatives of Kishapu and Kisarawe councils for being champions and urged the rest to emulate the examples.
The amendment to the Kenyan Education Act, signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta June, this year, indicates that “free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels” should be provided to every girl registered at school.”
The amended legal document also guarantees safe and environmental sound mechanism for disposal.
● Due to the sensitivity of the subject, real names have been hidden for the ethical reasons hence *Amina Salum and *Rehema Pastory are not their real names.