How to Break Down the Stigma and Taboo Around Menstruation
Girls around the world, and particularly in developing countries, dread getting their periods. They can’t access proper sanitary wear and often don’t have underwear to hold pads in place. School bathrooms aren’t clean and hygienic, and some schools don’t have running water so that girls can keep their hands and bodies clean while menstruating. Ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, The Conversation Africa’s education editor Natasha Joseph chatted to Dr Lindsay Kelland, from South Africa’s Rhodes University, about the Siyahluma Project Group, which is working to change the discussion around menstruation.
When was the Siyahluma Project Group launched and what sparked the idea to establish it?
The initial research group was formed in Grahamstown, South Africa, in late 2013. It was a partnership between the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction Research Unit, the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics and Rhodes University’s Community Engagement office. We conducted a survey of Grade 11 learners in schools in the Eastern Cape province to identify the menstruation-related challenges faced by girls at school.
In 2014 we formed ongoing research partnerships with 24 schools. Surveys were distributed, collected, coded and captured for approximately 1,100 learners. That year we also formed a partnership with five foster mothers who create reusable sanitary kits. That was when Siyahluma, the social enterprise, was born.
We initially heard about problems with access to sanitary products from a participant in the Young Women’s Dialogues at Rhodes’ Community Engagement office. But we knew that we could only sustainably address the problems in our particular context by conducting a needs assessment in the Eastern Cape. There wasn’t much information about these issues. We could only find one study then about menstruation in South Africa. It dealt with a different province, KwaZulu-Natal, and didn’t have anything to do with schools or schoolgirls.
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