Linguère Volunteers Break the Silence about Menstruation Alongside UN Women
In Senegal, many girls have little to no access to information about why they menstruate or how to manage their period hygienically and safely. Taboos and myths associated with fertility, adulthood and uncleanliness have created a culture of silence around menstruation. When information is given, fear and shame are often used during explanations to discourage girls from pregnancy. Girls are forced to manage their periods silently and without the proper education and materials to do so. This has led to women and girls limiting their cultural, educational, social and economic activities while menstruating. After receiving funds from a USAID SPA grant, volunteers in Linguere partnered with UN Women to conduct a an informational tourney to address this issue.
A study conducted by UN Women in the Louga Region stated that 36% of girls missed school due to their periods while 68% stayed away from work for the same reason. In Linguère, 55.3% of respondents stated that they had received no information prior to their first period. This lack of information has led to many women and girls feeling embarrassed and ashamed of their bodies. The Linguère area is composed mostly of rural villages, in which few have the economic means to buy pads which are not likely to be available at small local shops. When pads are available most shop owners are male and many girls are not comfortable buying from them because then people would know they are on their periods. Pieces of cloth, reusable pads, cotton and sometimes even pieces of foam mattresses are used as alternatives. Lack of privacy and water in school bathrooms, if they exist, are also not conducive to proper menstrual hygiene management.
The Linguère region Volunteers were inspired by a successful pad-making training Rheld at her local middle school in Khogue. Volunteers wanted to bring this experience to the rest of the region. Volunteers Sarah and Melissa contacted UN Women Louga in hopes of partnering on this project. UN Women Louga is currently piloting a program that encompasses gender, hygiene and sanitation targeting girls attending middle school. UN Women Volunteer, Seynabou Sarr, was immediately excited about this partnership and the potential impact.
Quickly realizing that UN Women already had a fantastic curriculum, the tourney expanded its focus to menstrual hygiene management. The curriculum is composed of 3 parts. It begins with an icebreaker to begin discussions on what menstruation is and what are the physical and emotional changes your body goes through during puberty. At this point the myths and taboos are addressed and dispelled using visual aids and pamphlets that show the changes in the body from ages 6 to 20. The second stage focuses on hygiene and proper care. Girls are shown what materials to use and what not to use. They are taught how to properly use them, clean them and/or dispose of them. During the final part of the session, girls make a menstrual cycle bracelet so they can learn to keep track and prepare for their next period. The program ends with each girl holding up her bracelet and pledging that together they will work to break the silence on menstruation.
The activity began with each volunteer and counterpart attending a training of trainers conducted by UN Women. The trainings then targeted 6 sites (Dahra, Mboula, Ndiane, Affé Djoloff, Thiargny and Tiél). The program was led by Seynabou Sarr and trained counterparts in each site. About 600 women and girls were reached throughout the region. It was extremely successful and received very positive feedback from the girls, counterparts, and the community.
In a reflective email, UN Volunteer Seynabou Sarr wrote, “I was affirmed in my appreciation of your dynamism and willingness to change. You are very loved by the communities. You inspire respect because of your humility (a life without basic services electricity, internet, air conditioning). You inspire respect by that smile you bring to rural people. It was a real pleasure working with you. Our tourney was so awesome! I return from Linguère more motivated, more excited, more committed in serving as a UN volunteer”.
This program would not have been as amazing as it was without the help of the wonderful and energetic UN Volunteer Seynabou Sarr who tirelessly and patiently asked for more women and girls to talk to. The Linguère region volunteers are forever thankful and look forward to partnering with UN Women again in hopes of breaking the silence on menstruation.