"I thought menstruation was women's business."
For many girls around the world, menstruation means missing out on an education. Sometimes girls miss a quarter of the school year because of their periods. But for an inspiring group of students, whether you’re a girl, a boy, woman or man, menstruation is everyone’s business.
“A home without visitors is not a home,” Headmaster Peter Agwapus welcomes our team into his school in Tororo district in Uganda. The school is a popular one in the area, with over a thousand students enrolled for only 21 teachers.
The school has changed enormously over a period of three years. For girls at Peter’s school, getting their period used to mean missing out on school. “I thought that by staying at home, it would save them the embarrassment of boys laughing." Peter explains. Many teachers at the school felt the same. It was normal for girls to go home when they got their periods.
So when Plan International came to the school in 2013 to train the students and teachers in managing menstrual hygiene, Peter was hesitant about boys and girls taking part in the training together. “I thought menstruation was women’s business and there was no point in training boys as well.”
It took convincing from Plan International staff to roll out the program at first. It involved all the girls and boys in the school health club being trained together as well as in gender-segregated groups. The members of the club were then equipped to share their learning with their peers so that students could understand that menstruation is normal and could learn how to manage it.
The transformation at the school has been extraordinary. Girls now go to school throughout their periods and boys don’t tease them when they have their period. Instead, they let teachers know if girls need help.
For Peter, the most significant difference has been the enormous change in attitude. “Both boys and girls now freely talk about menstruation.”
Peter’s own attitude has shifted, “Now I even discuss menstrual hygiene management with my daughters, something I never thought I would feel comfortable to do."
The program shows that through awareness and education we can shift entrenched stigma associated with menstruation that prevents girls from accessing a full education.