Written by Irise International Guest Blogger Chinsisi Kazuwa, Education Assistant – Theatre for a Change
This blog is part of Irise International’s #12DaysofChristmas Campaign.
August was a very interesting month for me at Theatre for a Change, Malawi. Participating in training more than 280 female teachers for our Tiphunzire! project was challenging, but also very rewarding.
One of the workshops I was excited to facilitate was on menstruation. Having done sessions with girls in the past, I knew a few of the challenges girls go through with their menses. For a lot of girls, menstruation is a burden and it was no different for me.
I was twelve when I got my first period. It wasn’t as embarrassing or uncomfortable as I thought it would be. There was no pain or warning, just a blood stain on my skirt after classes. I wasn’t scared, I knew quite a bit from my friends, but I wasn’t thrilled either. I went to the girls’ hostel, borrowed a skirt from one of my friends, and went home. Even though I knew it was a normal and natural process, I felt annoyed and angry; it was an inconvenience and a prison.
I hated the fact that I had to bleed every month. When I got home, I went straight to my mum’s room to tell her. My mum cannot keep a secret, so she told my cousin. I was embarrassed. I have always been a private person and I wanted my period to stay a private matter. Talking about my period with them was a nightmare; I would have given anything to be spared from that talk. But looking back, I am glad we had it. Knowing how to manage my menses gave me the freedom I thought I had lost.
I heard from my friends that I would eventually start having cramps when menstruating, they were right. But I also heard taking medication would cause complications during childbirth. To me this meant staying home during my menses and I hated the idea of being grounded by the pain. My mother would always give me painkillers and encourage me to exercise, so now I know the girls were wrong about the painkillers.
My experience has taught me the importance of breaking the silence on menstruation. Talking about menstruation to girls and discussing how to take care of ourselves when menstruating may not make it a breeze, but it makes it a whole lot easier to deal with. For many girls menstruation is a curse. This negative view makes it more unbearable and closes the communication gap. The truth is, menstruation is a normal, natural and healthy process that every girl goes through. It is not a result of promiscuity as others believe, but a process that happens when your body is ready.
The menstruation workshops (run by both Irise and Theatre for a Change) were one of the most rewarding workshops for me at the training. Not only did we address myths, we also talked about customs related to menstruation that are harmful to girls, menstruation management and hygiene. Seeing the teachers’ participation in these workshops was encouraging. They were eager to learn and to confidently go out and impart their knowledge to the girls. It was exciting to see their attitudes changed and their knowledge broadened.
For the vulnerable and marginalized girls we work with, such knowledge can be life-changing. It can free them from harmful myths and bad practices, such as getting married after the first period. In many rural communities, getting a period means one is ripe for marriage because they believe the body is ready to reproduce. In addition to this, it gives them the chance to free someone from looking at menstruation as a burden and transform it into something that can be managed positively.
For a girl who just got her first period, having someone to talk to is important. It might be weird at first, but like me, eventually she will realize how freeing it can be.
Want to know about Theatre for a Change’s fantastic work? Check out this short documentary film explaining their teacher training programme in Malawi, narrated by their patron Stephen Fry.
Chinsisi Kazuwa is an Education Assistant at Theatre for a Change, Malawi. She is passionate about child protection and empowering girls to make positive decisions in their lives.