'Periods shouldn’t stop girls going to school - it is our right to get an education'Maureen, 13, Girl Guide, Kenya (second left)
My first period came last year. I’d had some education about it, but it came so suddenly, I was shocked. I found it disgusting and I was worried other children would laugh at me. After I spoke to my mum, she told me not to be afraid. She said I should be proud of it, even when if I wasn’t able to do certain things.
I remember on one occasion my cousin and I wanted to go swimming, but the following morning my period came. I didn’t know what to do, so I just watched my cousin swim instead. It is unfair girls aren’t able to take part in certain activities when they are on their period. In some cases, girls are unable to go to school, but periods shouldn’t stop girls going to school - it is our right to get an education.
The Girl Guide Leaders have been very supportive. They have taught us how to use a sanitary pad, and how to deal with starting your period. I myself am a Girl Guide and I really enjoy being part of the movement. It’s good because it shows you that life doesn’t have to be serious. In the past in Kenya, girls were there to be seen and not heard, but now girls have been given a chance to be a Girl Guide and interact with others. Being a Girl Guide makes me very happy.
'I was told that if a boy touched you when you’re menstruating, you’d get pregnant'
Peruth, 16, Girl Guide, Uganda
I was 14 when it happened. It started with a stomach-ache in the middle of the night. I got up and went to the bathroom, but nothing happened.
I went back to bed but the pain persisted. After a while, I feel asleep, only to wake up in the morning and find my bed soiled with blood.
Even though my mother had told me about menstruation, it caught me off guard. I wasn’t ready for it and I wished it had waited longer. My sister assured me everything was OK and she showed me how to use sanitary pads.
My nightmare started when I had my period at school. I was afraid of playing with my friends, in case my sanitary towel fell off and I was a laughing stock. When I was on my period, I would keep to myself. My friends would ask me whether I was OK and I’d lied to them, saying I just didn’t want to play. I’d been told that if a boy touched you when you’re menstruating, you’d get pregnant, so when boys tried to talk to me, I’d get angry, even though they didn’t have bad intentions.
Two years on, I’m glad my period no longer traumatises me. Being a Girl Guide and joining the YESS Programme has educated me on how to manage my period – and how to be proud of it. I’m more confident now. I know it’s a normal experience for every woman and that life should not stop just because of them.
'We don’t want girls to feel embarrassed about their periods!'
Emmanuel, 13, red tie
“I was keen to join the Girl Guides of Kenya’s #MyPeriodMyPride campaign, as I have seen how girls can change when they get their period. They experience changes in their body and they feel shy and as though no one is supporting them. I don’t want them to feel embarrassed about it. In my faith, girls aren’t allowed to touch the holy book when they are on their period – it’s not far. It’s important for boys to understand periods. Many boys have friends and family who are girls, so when they are on their period boys should not tell the whole community. They should stay quiet and be supportive.
I want to support girls so they don’t feel shy or afraid when they are on their period. I want to reassure them is a normal part of life and a stage you have to go through. Many boys associate with girls at different points in their lives, so if you see a girl going through anything, you should not say it to anybody. Just keep quiet and don’t embarrass her. We support girls during their period. I don’t want them to feel shy - I want them to be proud of their period.
'I had to use my pocket money to buy sanitary pads'
Nassaka, 21, Uganda
I was 13 when I got my first period. I didn’t know what was happening to me.
I remember getting severe cramps a few days earlier. I’d never experienced anything like it, but I just put it down to stomach upset.
When I saw the blood, I thought I’d been wounded. I called out for my aunt and told her I was bleeding. She explained about periods and showed me how to use a pad. She told me I had grown up and that I shouldn’t mess around with men.
Up until then, I hadn’t received any education on menstrual health and hygiene. I’d never even heard of the word period. Although rituals in Uganda are common, my aunt didn’t believe in them.
Going to school was tricky. Although I had access to sanitary pads at home, they didn’t have any at school. Boys didn’t understand what we were going through either and many thought we were unclean. At times, it was so painful, I skipped classes and activities as I had such severe cramps. I couldn’t walk upright and it really affected my moods. I didn’t realise this was normal until I saw a counsellor a few years later who told me these feelings and emotions were part and parcel of having a period.
Sometimes staff from local health centres distributed reusable pads at school. It helped for a time, but as I grew up I learnt how to save up and use my pocket money to buy sanitary pads.
As a young leader for Uganda Girl Guides Association and a member of the YESS Girls Project, I am now on a mission to make sure girls are educated about menstrual health and hygiene, so they are equipped, educated and able to feel free and proud of their periods and to be women.
Being a Girl Guide has helped me so much. It’s had a huge impact on my life. I am able to stand up and speak out on issues affecting girls and young women.
'Girls should be proud of their periods'
Samar, Boy Scout, India
I’ve seen how girls suffer during their periods. When girls are menstruating, they aren’t allowed to go to places of worship, because it’s thought they aren’t pure. I’ve been told that many chemists don’t stock sanitary pads, so girls can’t access the basic necessities to keep themselves clean,
Girls should not be treated this way! If girls didn’t have a period, they wouldn’t be able to give birth. When I return to my community, I am going to educate my family members about menstruation and the myths behind it. I will also go to the local chemists and tell them to start stocking sanitary pads.
Girls should be proud of the periods and boys should take care and help them.
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is educating girls and boys around the world about the importance of menstrual health and hygiene. For more information, visit www.wagggs.org