Confined indoors for seven days, banned from using salt in food, and missed school classes. Here, five girls from across world bravely open up about the stigmas and difficulties they faced when they got their first period.
Plan International is working in communities across Asia and Africa to ensure young girls are educated on how to manage their menstrual hygiene.
Why? Because #MenstruationMatters. Period.
“I am not allowed to take a bath, rinse my hair, or cook when I have a period.”
“The first time I got my period, I told my father,” said 11-year-old Chandarayani, who lives in a small village in Indonesia. “It felt very strange as I wasn’t expecting to see spots of blood on my underwear. I didn’t know how to handle it.”
Chandarayani’s father quickly told her mother, who reassured her it was a normal process and showed her how to put on a sanitary pad.
“In my family there is no tradition nor rituals applied when a girl has the first period,” she said. “But there are things that my mother asks me not to do during menstruation. I am not allowed to take a bath, rinse my hair, or cook.”
“I was confined to the house for seven days”
“I was 13 when I got my period. I thought I’d hurt myself,” recalls Alinafe (left), 15, from Malawi.
The teenager rushed to tell her friend, but they were both alarmed when the blood flow didn’t stop. When Alinafe’s mother found out, the young girl was sent to her neighbor’s house, where she was given some rags. Alinafe then went to stay with her grandmother, in another community.
“I was told to stay inside my grandmother’s house for a week and taught how to wear rags, so I didn’t stain my clothes with blood and bring shame on my family,” said Alinafe.
Alinafe also had her genitals checked to ensure she was ready for sexual intercourse.
“I was checked by my grandmother and she was fine with the state of my genitalia,” said Alinafe.
Cooking was an issue too.
“I wasn’t allowed to cook food until my second period – and I was told not to put any salt in people’s food,” said Alinafe.
The seven day “quarantine” also resulted in missed school classes.
“I missed some lessons, but I have now graduated into adulthood. When I came out of confinement, we held a ceremony,” says Alinafe.
The women talk to girls about several issues, including menstrual hygiene. They also have sessions with the girls who have not started menstruating yet.
“My period means I have to miss school”
Esha, 14, from India, always felt too scared to talk about menstruation.
“When I first started my period, I was aware of the changes in my body but I was too shy to talk about it,” she said. “At first, I used homemade sanitary pads, called ‘kapda.’ ‘Kapda’ is essentially just a piece of cloth. I was only able to use them two to three times after they had been washed with water and I had to make sure the rags were left to dry in the sun.”
The kapda was unhygienic and Esha often fell ill from using the rags, making it all the more difficult to go to school.
“I would often miss five to six days of school, as there were no proper toilet facilities,” she said. “I had no other option. It was difficult, especially when it came to exam time.”
Nowadays, life is a bit easier. With the support of Plan and its partner organization, new bathrooms have been installed at Esha’s school, along with incinerators where girls are able to get rid of their used sanitary napkins. Teachers have also been educating girls on the topic of menstrual health.
“My mother refused to buy me any sanitary pads”
“My first period came when I was 12 – a day after my sister started hers,” said Christine, 17, from Uganda. “When I saw blood on my knickers, I rushed to ask my sister where it was coming from. She said I had started menstruating, but I didn’t understand what she meant.”
Christine was told to have a bath and tell her mother about what had happened.
“My mother bought me two pairs of knickers,” says Christine. “When I asked her about the pads, she told me she uses rags and I should use the same. I got a cloth we were no longer using, tore it into pieces, washed it, and dried it properly. That’s how I managed my first period and for the long time to follow.”
Christine now has access to sanitary pads through the Plan-supported AFRIPads initiative. AFRIPads are reusable pads that can be washed, dried, and reused again for one year. Plan has also worked with young girls such as Christine, educating them about the importance of menstrual health through plays and awareness-raising sessions.
“I cannot water flowers or eat sour food when I am menstruating”
Vevin first got her period in church.
“I told my dad, who was sitting next to me,” said the 12-year-old girl from Indonesia. “I had a terrible stomach ache and headache, so I left and found my mother, who got me some sanitary pads.”
Although there are no traditions to follow, there are a few things Vevin isn’t allowed to do.
“My mother has told me not to rinse my hair, get close to boys, water flowers, or eat sour food while I am on my period,” she said.
For Vevin, she is still able to go to school when she menstruates, as her school is equipped with toilets, sanitary pads, and clean water, thanks to Plan.