Menstruation isn't likely to be a go-to conversation topic for your next dinner party. Talking about periods out in the open is just not the done thing. In big and small ways, periods are often politely kept private, or else completely prevented from entering the public view. Author and artist, Rupi Kaur, made headlines when an Instagram photo which showed menstrual blood leaking through her clothes was taken down (twice) for “violating community standards”. And yet, women and girls are finding creative ways to celebrate their periods in empowering ways, sometimes with hilarious results.
But in other parts of the world, like Sierra Leone - periods are more than just an uncomfortable subject. Periods can mean the difference between reaching your full potential, or not.Cultural taboos surrounding menstruation, combined with a lack of education around menstrual health and hygiene, and limited access to sanitary products, have had serious consequences for the women and girls living in Sierra Leone. Without access to sanitary pads, many women and girls use other products such as newspaper, kitchen sponges, or torn up cloth called ‘pieces’ to manage their periods. In Sierra Leone clean water is scarce and soap is expensive, and many girls find it embarrassing to wash their soiled 'pieces' in public washing areas - so instead they leave them to dry in humid areas indoors. This can breed bacteria which in turn can cause infections and rashes. And on top of that, pieces can be pretty unreliable. Girls have reported missing up to a week of school per month when they have their period, anxious that their uniforms will be stained with blood and they will face embarrassment and shame. We believe a period should never get in the way of a girl's education. And that's why last year we expanded our LaunchPad project into schools. LaunchPad aims to educate women and girls about menstrual health and hygiene, while also making biodegradable, affordable sanitary pads available through a network of trained female entrepreneurs. After running the program successfully across rural communities in Sierra Leone, we brought it into schools. We trained up 14 student LaunchPad Champions, as well as five extra community LaunchPad Champions. Champions are trained in menstrual health and hygiene - so they can educate the women and girls around them - and in business skills and financial literacy, so they can earn a small profit by selling the pads. A common bit of feedback our Champions pass on is that many of their first-time customers have never even seen a sanitary pad, let alone know how to use it or even why they should use it. Admit it, if you’ve never seen pads before they can be pretty damn confusing. Because of this, much of the Champions’ job focuses on having important conversations about - you guessed it - periods, and educating women and girls about the best way to manage them. Our LaunchPad champions are constantly coming up against cultural taboos and misinformation about menstruation. So they’ve worked together with our local Sierra Leone team to come up with some rather creative ways to put periods on the air (literally) and shine a special spotlight on the wonder of a simple sanitary pad.
Putting periods on the airOne way they’ve done this is through a series of radio discussions, as a way to raise awareness about menstrual health and hygiene, and give Champions and other members of the community an opportunity to get involved. Think talk-back radio, but all about periods. Some of the topics discussed include:
- What is menstruation?
- What should we do before, during and after menstruation?
- How does the use of sanitary pads compare to other methods of managing your period (like using ‘pieces’).