I am allowed to bleed without violence and discrimination: celebrating 2018 Menstrual Hygiene Day in Mohale’s Hoek Lesotho

Australian Red Cross (ARC) | Jenni Lillingston from Australian Red Cross (ARC), on 05/06/2018 14:14 AEST

Even when information about the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without fear is available, limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities makes menstrual health management (MHM) challenging for girls and women. Several elements are required, including sanitary towels or clothes, a private place to change, soap and water, and access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used materials.

Lesotho Red Cross Society’s (LRCS) WASH Promotion Interventions for Rural Communities, funded by CS-WASH, has been supporting a number of schools with improved access to water, safe and private latrines for girls and waste pit for used pads.  The project has also coached teachers and peer educators to establish WASH clubs, where they can promote information and practices related to hygiene including MHM. This has included building the understanding of boys that menstruation is a normal function and that they have a role in MHM including not bullying girls when they have their period, telling them respectfully if they have stained clothes and helping then get pads if needed.  Boys and girls now openly discuss menstruation in WASH clubs and speak freely with their teachers, with MHM messages also reinforced at regular parent meetings. 

This year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day celebration was hosted by Mesitsaneng Primary coordinated with two other project schools (Kolo-la-Pere and Makhaleng), and joined by five other local schools to broaden the reach of messages.  The day started with student participating in a 4 km fun walk with boy and girls displaying signs they had prepared reinforcing the theme No More Limits and Break the silence. Promoting MHM provides a starting point for tackling inequality and messages focussed on reducing the stigma and lack of dignity often associated with menstruation and that girls should be able to continue to go to school and play.  Messages also sought to break the nexus between girls having their period, the belief that they are sexual activity and marriage.

Speeches and activities followed that included songs, poems and stories prepared for the day by WASH club students and LRCS youth volunteers. Guest speakers included the Local Councillor, District Administrator, representative of Department of Environmental Health, teachers, a parent and a local doctor. Activities included a drama by Mesitsaneng students portraying a student abused and embarrassed by her peers after her first menstruation at school. Her teacher then reassured her it was normal and showed her how to use a sanitary pad.  Students from Kolo- la-ere school recited:

I am allowed to bleed without violence and discrimination

I am a woman, skin and bones

Veins and nerves

Hair and sweat

I am made neither of metaphors nor apologies

Not even excuses…

After the presentations student discussed their stories: “I thought menstruation to be a curse and a sign that someone is engaging in sexual activities but now I know that it’s a healthy experience every girl or female have to go through” Refiloe, Mesitsaneng school (11 years old) and Mapakeska (13 years old), Makhaleng School noted “I thought there was something wrong with me when I first saw my period, I was afraid to tell my teacher and parents because I thought they would make me get married like some of my friends who got married after they saw their periods.” Students from schools outside the project discussed how the event had helped educate them to importance for proper use and appropriate disposal of sanitary pads.

The day concluded with prizes for each school of sanitary pads to establish emergency stocks that would be available for students in the future, donated by local businesses and individuals. Students have committed to replenishing these in the future.