A special moment
The first menstrual cycle for a girl is a special moment. However, in some parts of the world, girls struggle to access information on what is happening to their bodies and are unsure of where to turn to for advice.
This can leave girls isolated, causing them to miss school and suffer in silence. In Malawi, research has found that the lack of access to menstrual hygiene management products can result in girls being absent from school for up to five days each month. That’s almost a quarter of their learning time.
Ellen Chometera is 16 years old and goes to Mpalankhwali School, near Dzaleka, Dowa District, Malawi. Speaking of her first menstrual cycle she says: “I found it very difficult to tell anyone, including my teachers, if my cycle happened to start in school. I would just lie, saying that I am sick, just to excuse myself.”
With the support of the Bank of Ireland, GOAL Malawi is implementing an intervention focused on strengthening positive menstrual hygiene management amongst school-aged girls. Together, they established the Mpalakhwali Menstrual Hygiene Club. It is open to adolescent girls living in and around the school, which is 50 kilometers outside of the capital, Lilongwe.
The focus of the club is to provide menstrual hygiene products as well as education and support. Over 3,000 adolescent school-going girls are offered menstrual dignity kits, containing reusable pads and underwear. With GOAL’s support, the club also links in with local Mother’s Groups. This enables mothers to better understand the importance of talking to their daughters about menstruation and supporting them.
Care and advice instead of shame and fear
In the future, GOAL teams on the ground in Malawi will reach out to relevant community-based leaders and influencers. These can be local chiefs, infrastructure management committees, and school management committees.
Raising awareness among these key stakeholders within the community can bring about a sustainable and impactful change in the lives of adolescent girls.
Ellen was among the first to join the club and received her hygiene kit. She is delighted that she no longer has to hide: “After joining the club, I understand my period cycle better and am able to come prepared, with the pads, in case the period starts while at school. I also know who to talk to. We have patrons and matrons that provide advice on how we should take care of ourselves. The reusable pads will allow me to keep attending classes, even during my cycle”.