Irise International works to support the education and empowerment of women and girls in East Africa through addressing the neglected issue of menstrual hygiene management. In this series of blog, we look at how menstrual hygiene can affect all girls in a range of cultures and environments. In this blog, Amelia Savell-Boss talks about the importance of education about menstrual hygiene. To find out more about the work Irise do please visit www.irise.org.uk.
This will be my third year volunteering for Friends of Irise and during that time I have learnt a phenomenal amount about gender equality, female empowerment, menstrual hygiene management and even the female reproductive system, genitalia and periods in general.
In April 2015 I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to volunteer for Irise International as a research assistant in Uganda for 8 weeks. While there, I helped conduct some of the vital research that we hope is going to help women and girls access safe, sustainable and reliable sanitary products. This will enable women and girls to be able to enter school and the workplace without fear of shame or embarrassment. We also hope to help remove the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation and alter the discourse so that it is no longer feared and looked upon with disgust yet thought of as the natural bodily function that it is.
Although I had a good understanding of the work Irise conducts it was still shocking to see how little some of the girls knew about their own bodies. How great the impact their menstrual cycle had, not only upon their education, but also on how they live their lives.
We hope that by teaching the young girls about their bodies, they will feel more empowered to be able to take more control of their reproductive health. We hope they will make better choices about their menstrual hygiene management and no longer see their period as a barrier to their education.
I learnt a great deal while I was in Uganda however I was unaware of how applicable it would be to the UK until I co-hosted a Girls Group at a local secondary school with Women’s Aid. These sessions were working with young girls who were in some way vulnerable and in need of support. I led one of our sessions and discussed my work in Uganda with the young people. I explained how many of the girls in Uganda were never taught about their periods or their genitalia and reproductive system, and I was astounded that many of the girls looked at me blankly.
We (Friends of Irise) had previously assumed that all young people in the UK had an understanding of menstruation and the female reproductive system and genitalia. I have, of course, only a limited perspective and experience of the general knowledge levels of young people in the UK. However I was surprised that the girls appeared to have a similar lack of understanding of their bodies to the girls we taught in Uganda.
I asked the safeguarding manager of this school if there were any issues with menstruation. She replied that there are a few girls each week who come to see the school nurse for pads and tampons, as they have no sanitary products of their own.
I then thought back to my own experience and of the times that my friends and I were caught out without sanitary products or had to miss school because of our periods.
I realised a need for Friends of Irise to utilise what I had learnt in Uganda and adapt it to a UK context. Therefore Friends of Irise is adding lessons on basic biology, the female reproductive system and menstruation to our curriculum to ensure all girls have access to the information they need. This is in recognition of the need and the right for young girls and boys to understand how and why menstruation happens and how it can impact the lives of women and girls all over the world.
Many girls in Uganda are unable to access sanitary products, or education about their menstrual health. Irise are changing this! To find out more about the work Irise does, or donate this Christmas, please visit www.irise.org.uk.
The content of this blog may contain personal views which are not the views of Irise International unless specifically stated. This blog is part of a series of blogs used to promote awareness of menstrual health and gender equality.