MASERU – Taboos withholding sexual education for the girl child are breaking, finally.
Initiatives by various sections of society to donate sanitary towels to schools to ease girls’ menstruation; churches refraining from discriminating against women during their menses; as well as parents breaking tradition by discussing menstruation and sexual reproductive health with their daughters; are just some of the bold steps being taken to break away with long-held cultural norm.
For centuries, it has been deemed a taboo especially in Africa for parents to discuss menstruation with their daughter, leaving girls feeling desolate and forcing them to learn about their anatomy on their own.
Perpetuating young girls and women’s frustrations is the fact religion has also played a fundamental role in ensuring that females are discriminated against, with churches imposing conditions such as not wearing church uniforms, touching food and barring women from sleeping on the same bed with their husbands during menstruation, because they are considered to be impure during their menses.
In Sesotho for example, women are said to be “unclean” and traditionally, were isolated in a hut and forced to sit on dry dung for the duration of their period in order not to “contaminate” water, food and their families.
Some parents struggle to talk to their young daughters about menstruation claiming unease in discussing menstruation with their pre-teen and teen daughters.
Other male parents believe it is the mother’s responsibility to talk about the issue as it does not concern them while some women believe that women and girls’ issues should only be discussed by them and should not involve or be known to men in any way.
Although conversations on menstruation are no longer much of a taboo, culture and religion are among factors that encourage conversations on menstruation to be had in private, thus eroding girls’ confidence.
Some religions and cultures believe that a woman or girl who is on her periods is unclean and should not participate in certain religious and household tasks and avoid physical contact with men as much as possible.
In some cases women are isolated in unhygienic conditions for the rest of the days of their menstruation where they are at the risk of contracting infections, and are restricted them from touching bibles, church uniforms, and even stand on altars when they are on their periods, other religious leaders believe the practice is outdated and barriers are already being broken as menstruation issues are being discussed openly without any shame.
Because of little or no communication about menstruation, some girls are forced to skip school due to lack of sanity towels and fear of being embarrassed in case blood visibly spills to their clothes.
Some modern men in cities, however, see nothing to be ashamed of with their spouses or daughters’ menstruation.
They believe it is every parent’s responsibility to talk about menstruation to their daughters and ensure that they are well assisted in using them and ensuring that they get sanitary pads when they need them.
Chief Bishop Lempe Moloi of Issakare Apostolic Church in Zion notes that menstruation does not make women unclean and women are allowed to perform all the church duties and wear the church’s uniform.
Moloi says excluding women because of menstruation will be discriminating against a child of God which is wrong before God’s eyes.
He notes that the bible supports women taking part in family and church activities despite their menstrual state as all people are equal before God.
Pastor Fani Manyatsi echoes Bishop Moloi and adds that as long as one has a good relationship with God, they are clean whether man or woman.
He adds that menstruation is not a taboo any more as he is able to communicate very well with his daughter about periods to ensure that she has the needed sanity pads during her menstruation.
However, Thabiso Matsoso, a father to three teenage girls, notes that he does not talk about menstruation with his daughters and adds that he sees no need to as their mother plays that role.
Matsoso says he believe the mother is the appropriate person to talk to girls about their periods as the conversation will be more comfortable when done among women than when it is done by him.
“I do not think I have the guts to talk to my girls about their periods. It will be awkward for all of us,” he said.
Chairperson of Democratic Congress (DC) women’s league, Mamotseki Sekete, who is also a mother to two young girls notes that she never finds any difficulty in discussing matters relating to menstruation to her daughters even to other teenage girls.
She, however, notes that the challenge is that teenagers, especially those that have started menstruating are ashamed of talking about the issue, so they hide when they are on their periods and avoid discussing menstruation with their parents at all cost.
Sekete says this is mostly caused by insufficient knowledge by young girls about menstruation and their sexual health rights and they tend to believe friends on issues concerning their health instead of their parents.
Upbringing also plays a huge part on how children and their parents respond when sexual topics are discussed, she adds.
She notes that during her teenage years, she was brought up by very traditional and strict parents who never discussed sexual matters with her and she was forced to learn about her body on her own.
Sekete notes that the scenario could have repeated itself with her daughters had she not been brave enough to break that silence.
She says more often than not when teenagers have no answers pertaining to the changes they see with their bodies, they turn to friends for answers and end up being misinformed thereby putting themselves at risk of engaging in early sex under myths that they will get help.
They even risk contracting sexually transmitted diseases, she notes.
She advises parents to try by all means to teach girl children about menstruation even before they start going on their periods so that they would not be ashamed and, instead, feel free to discuss the matter with their parents.
Neo Qhomane, a mother to 15-year-old twins notes that she also experiences challenges with her girls who feel embarrassed and do not want to talk about menstruation with her. She says whenever she brings up a topic on menstruation, her daughters dismiss her and even feel offended.
Qhomane notes that she has tried all in her power to talk to them and ensure that there is nothing to be ashamed of but nothing worked, even after involving her sister to talk to them.
“When I talk to them about their periods, what they mean and what they should expect, they get very offended and even threaten to never to visit me during school holidays,” she says.
Queen ’Masenate Mohato Seeiso started a trust called Hlokomela Banana Initiative to improve the lives of girls in schools by providing sanitary wear so that they don’t miss school due to menstrual cycles.
The Hlokomela Banana initiative, which seeks to provide sanitary towels for an entire year, was mooted because young girls in Lesotho will often miss up to 50 school days throughout the year once they start their menstrual cycle.
The initiative has attracted considerable support from individuals and different companies that contribute in ensuring that girls in schools around the country get sanity pads for the whole year.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Lesotho recently adopted four schools and an orphanage, through collaboration with a government initiative, to ensure young women throughout the country receive feminine hygiene products.
However, disposal of sanitary napkins is very dangerous for the environment as they are a non-degradable waste.
Burning of the used sanity pads is not an option as that also pollutes the air.
However, the introduction of menstrual cups and reusable sanity napkins can be the best way to shift from using sanity pads as they are reusable.
Sanity napkins can be well cleaned and dried for reuse while a menstrual cup is a feminine hygiene product that is inserted into the vagina during menstruation. Its purpose is to prevent menstrual fluid from leaking onto clothes.
Menstrual cups are usually made of flexible medical grade silicone and shaped like a bell with a stem.
The stem is used for insertion and removal. The bell-shaped cup seals against the vaginal wall just below the cervix.
Every four to 12 hours, the cup is removed, emptied, rinsed, and reinserted. After each period, the cup should be boiled for at least 5 minutes and stored for use the next month.