Category Archives: Alliance for African Women Initiative

Menstrual Cycles… oh my

The past few weeks the Pathfinders have been working at the Alliance for African Women Initiative (AFAWI) in Accra, Ghana.

from the inside of AFAWI's office

One of the boards that decorates the inside of AFAWI’s office

Ben and I have spent a lot of time editing the website. It hasn’t been updated in a while and it’s missing a lot of the amazing work AFAWI has done within the past few years. Plus the website missing some essential new programs that were recently added. Apparently many people were (understandably) questioning the validity of these new projects. I think it’s incredibly important for an organization to have a nice website – it lends legitimacy to an organization.

Anyway one of the parts I was in charge of was the research paper part of the website. I spent a lot of time reading AFAWI’s research.

Phillip, the programs co-ordinator and one of the founders of the Alliance for African Women Initiative

Phillip, the programs co-ordinator and one of the founders of the Alliance for African Women Initiative

Did you know that many girls drop out of school because of their menstrual cycles?

The gender gap in education widens as girls get older, and some of that is contributed to menstruation. Oftentimes, the environment at school doesn’t allow a young woman to feel comfortable doing essential things like changing pads.

From what I’ve been told most schools don’t have bathroom stalls that are high enough. This results in a lot of peeking and teasing. Can you imagine trying to change a pad in that when you’re a teenager? Plus 87% of boys admitted to teasing their female teenage peers about menstruation. What a nightmare.

There aren’t any places for young women to dispose of sanitary products at school, and as many people know dogs love to sniff out pads.

Also many girls can’t afford sanitary pads and instead opt for things like grass and toilet paper. And embarrassment led a lot of the girls attempt to dry their reusable cloth indoors – which can lead to a lot of mold and mildew. Yikes.

As a result, many girls opt to stay home during their periods instead of attending school. That means they miss a week out of every month of schooling. Many of these girls then start to fall behind their peers and eventually drop out.

I can’t imagine being unable to obtain an education because of something as natural as menstruation.

AFAWI does a lot to help this situation. They built new stalls for the bathrooms, incinerators for girls to dispose of their pads, gave girls a free supply of pads for a year, and educated everyone (including boys) about menstruation to stop the teasing.

AFAWI gave a years supply of menstrual supplies to students. photo credits to AFAWI

I know, I sound like a walking billboard for them, but I really really like what they do. This is one of like 20 programs that AFAWI has going on.

So this week during teen club (another awesome program that AFAWI does) the officers wanted us to give the club a talk about cleanliness and hygiene Рthe topic of menstruation fell on me. Crap.

Teen Club meeting

Teen Club meeting

I was hesitant. Talking to teenagers about menstruation, pads, periods and stuff? Queue the giggles and snickering. It’s nerve-wracking enough without the added pressure of knowing that it could potentially change whether or not some of these girls stay in school.

It doesn’t help that I look about 12 years old. (In fact, that was one of the first questions they asked me at the end of my spiel) What would a 12 year old know about menstruation?

The nervousness left when I saw how eager many of the girls were. A lot were taking notes. The boys were interested too. I had to preface my talk with a part about why it’s an issue that concerns all of them – not just women.

During the talk I covered:

  • menstruation is normal
  • the anatomy of menstruation
  • why it’s an education and gender issue
  • menstruation is perfectly natural
  • sanitary products that are available
  • how to use each of these sanitary products safely
  • and that menstruation is absolutely normal (I really emphasized this point. Why should you be embarassed about something so natural?)

And you know what? There wasn’t a lot of giggling and the students paid attention. Huge sigh of relief.

Ben, Conor, and Wendy’s topics went well too. Ben covered HIV/AIDS, Wendy talked about general hygiene (brush your teeth, wash your hands, etc), and Conor discussed mental health.

On the agenda for next week for teen club: a debate on whether kids their age should be in relationships. This should be interesting.


(Sorry. There aren’t any pictures of me actually giving the talk. Everyone was busy)


If you like what the Pathfinders Project is doing, please donate. All the money is going to support us in our work at AFAWI and at the witch camps in Ghana.