Girls are scared, they don’t understand what is wrong with them, they think of many awful things and they don’t know what to do.
Some girls suffer so much that in some cases even commit suicide. Why?
Because they are having their period for the first time. In Kyrgyzstan, many young girls are not aware of menstruation, nobody talks to them about this and they are left alone with their fear.
This alarming revelation was confirmed through the research initiated by UNICEF in Kyrgyzstan. The goal of the research was to understand the problems and barriers girls face at school with regards to menstrual hygiene. The research also sheds the light on puberty-related attitudes and practices among young people, parents, and teachers. It was conducted in the second half of 2015 at seven schools in Chui and Osh provinces, in northern and southern Kyrgyzstan.
The saddest thing about the survey for me was the fact that its findings were not new for anyone living in Kyrgyzstan. Everyone who read the findings fully supported them and had their own unhappy stories to share. UNICEF brought together a wide range of supporters to break the silence and openly discuss what needs to be done to change the situation. As a result, Mrs. Raisa Atambaeva, Kyrgyzstan’s first lady joined with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education to present her vision during the national Adolescent Girls’ Hygiene conference in April 2016. Mrs. Atambaeva reiterated the need to break the taboos and called to begin talking about menstruation openly.
The research also revealed that it’s not only girls and boys who lack basic knowledge about menstruation. Most parents confessed that they knew little about menstruation, and also felt extremely uncomfortable explaining it to their children.
Based on the research findings, we reviewed all available guidelines and information to develop an easy, clear and culturally acceptable guide for teachers and leaflets for parents. For girls, we wanted to do something special, something which they would trust and relate to easily. My colleague Esen Turusbekov, WASH Chief, came up with a great idea – to write a feature story using the characters of the well-known “Magic Journey” cartoon, launched by UNICEF.
“Magic Journey” has won the hearts of all children in Kyrgyzstan and beyond. There over 400 minute episodes already available. Akylay, a 6-year old girl, and Aktan, a 6-year old boy, together with their friends overcome numerous challenges as they learn about the world. In a new book, the grown-up Aktan and Akylay will lead their young admirers through the important stages of their lives. The book will first reach boys and girls in 100 schools of Kyrgyzstan, with a number of donors expressing interest to help reach out to every child in the country.
I plan discuss the book with my 10-year-old son. I am so excited, as it will be ME who will break the taboo by talking menstruation to my boy. I think the cosmonauts experience the same feelings before their first spacewalk. I am determined that the book and the friendly talk will help him better understand the puberty and he will be way more confident when he will talk to his children about menstruation in the future.
Galina Solodunova is a Communications for Development Specialist at UNICEF Kyrgyzstan