Refugee Fight Myths on Menstruation
This article appeared in New Vision, Uganda's lead Newspaper
Margaret Dipio, 43, left South Sudan in 2014 and was placed in Boroli refugee settlement in Adjumani District, Northern Uganda. Living among a multitude of people with different cultural backgrounds, soon, Dipio recognized a number of tribal perceptions regarding menstruation. One of the perceptions she encountered was that the menstruation period is a biological anomaly, hence a girl gets isolated throughout her monthly cycle. The girl is not expected to touch any utensil, let alone greet anybody.
In totality, she is regarded as dirty and worst of all if her period comes with pain, it is associated with an ancestral curse. In Boroli settlement, some cultures believe that a girl in her period should have a pit equivalent to the size of her backside, over which she is expected to sit for days without bathing until her monthly cycle ends.
The above beliefs portray that no one is supposed to get into contact with fresh menstrual blood, lest it renders the girl barren in future. Therefore, strict guidelines are set to stop this occurring. Such is the scale of the archaic traditional myths surrounding menstruation that Dipio and a few others are out to confront amidst severe loath from the conservative section of her community.
With little hope of success, Dipio and others started talking to opinion and religious leaders about the need the this chain of misconception surrounding menstruation. The group visited schools and churches to talk about menstrual hygiene, as well as emphasize the need for communities to abandon traditions that hold back women in Boroli refugee settlement and the world over.
“Some women fear to tell their husbands about buying sanitary pads for their girls,” Dipio said.
[Dipio is a trainer forFARM STEW Uganda, a national Non-Governmental Organization with the mission of improving the health and well-being of poor families and vulnerable people.]
“As we come together to grow vegetables, we also talk about the plight of women in our community,”Dipio said. They visit primary schools in the area targeting mainly girls inPrimary Five to Seven to talk to them about menstrual hygiene.
Dipio also offers training to girls in the proper use of sanitary pads. She says their messages are gradually entering into the crevices of the cultural barriers into the community. “Many are slowly abandoning the bad practices,” she said.
Their fight against the stereotypes associated with menstruation, is however, being hampered by household poverty in the refugee settlements.
“Some of the families cannot afford to buy sanitary pads for their daughters,” Dipio said.
At Boroli PrimarySchool, the senior woman teacher, Harriet Walea, said the girls, mainly from the settlement, tend to miss lessons when they run out of the sanitary pads provided by the agencies. Not all parents can afford to buy the pads, so they “obviously shy away from lessons during their menstruation period,” Walea said.
Boroli enrolled over497 girls at the beginning of 2019, Walea says the number dropped during the second term. Nearly half of the girls miss classes every day, those who missare in the upper classes. “We suspect they abscond due to their periods,” Walea said.
AFRIpads, a firm which makes reusable sanitary pads, has donated 200 [packets] of sanitary pads to FARM STEW to distribute in Boroli Primary School in a campaign dubbed “My period, My voice”.