South Sudan: Sanitary towels keep girls in school

Marshalina John, 13

I remember the night before I got my first period. I was sleeping next to my mother when I suddenly developed severe stomach pain. I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was sick. My mother put a cold cloth on my stomach to relieve the pain, but it was unbearable. I could hardly sleep. In the morning, I felt a little better and took a shower so that I could go to school. While in the bathroom, I saw blood flowing from my body all the way to the floor. I was confused. I ran back to the house and told my mother. She asked me to dress up so we could go to the hospital. She thought I was unwell and gave me extra pieces of cloth so the blood wouldn’t stain my clothes. We then went to the clinic to see a doctor. After examining me, he informed us that I was having my period which is quite normal. He explained to my mother that she needed to buy sanitary towels and advised me on how to use them and maintain hygiene during menstruation. He also said I would menstruate every 28 days. I missed school that day because the pain was severe but also because we spent a lot of time in the hospital.

True to the doctor’s words, my periods came every 28 days. Because of the economic crisis, there were times when I would miss school because my mother could not afford to buy sanitary towels. Last year UNICEF started distributing sanitary towels and soap, panties and a rope for hanging clothes for girls to use during their periods. That has made a profound change because I have not missed school because of periods since then.  A lot of girls drop out of school once they get their periods because their parents cannot afford to buy sanitary towels. Food is a priority, so things like sanitary towels are considered a luxury in most homes. I am happy to see that three of my friends who dropped out of school because of periods are now back in school. I had told them about the washable sanitary towels that all girls received in school and they have not missed school since then.

A girl in school uniform sitting on a blue plastic chair.
©UNICEF/South Sudan/2019/KolokMarshalina John, 13, talks about menstruation.

True to the doctor’s words, my periods came every 28 days. Because of the economic crisis, there were times when I would miss school because my mother could not afford to buy sanitary towels. Last year UNICEF started distributing sanitary towels and soap, panties and a rope for hanging clothes for girls to use during their periods. That has made a profound change because I have not missed school because of periods since then.  A lot of girls drop out of school once they get their periods because their parents cannot afford to buy sanitary towels. Food is a priority, so things like sanitary towels are considered a luxury in most homes. I am happy to see that three of my friends who dropped out of school because of periods are now back in school. I had told them about the washable sanitary towels that all girls received in school and they have not missed school since then.

I would like more parents to support their children especially girls by talking to them about menstruation to prepare them for when it comes. I talk to my younger sister about it so that when her time comes, she will be ready for it. I am grateful to UNICEF and all the organizations supporting girls to stay in school even during their periods.

Teresa Kiden, 14

Last year, I almost dropped out of school due to periods. I found it very difficult to discuss menstruation with my father who has been taking care of me after my mother passed away a few years ago. He has been quite helpful but most times he struggles to buy me sanitary towels. I used to miss school four to five days every month. At some point I almost gave up on school altogether but since I received the dignity kit from UNICEF, I have been able to stay in school. I have noticed that more girls are staying in school and those who had dropped out are now coming back.

A girl in school uniform sitting on a green plastic chair.
© UNICEF/South Sudan/2019/KolokFourteen-year-old Teresa Kiden shares her experience on menstruation.

The lessons in school have been very helpful in reducing stigma for girls. Both boys and girls now understand that periods are very normal. This is good because girls can enjoy an environment where no one teases them in school. The toilets in the schools are also user friendly and give privacy to girls.

UNICEF Support

UNICEF and partners in South Sudan are providing vulnerable school girls with dignity kits containing reusable pads, soap, underwear, a torch, a clothes line and a comb. In 2018, dignity kits reached over 50,000 vulnerable girls and over 5,000 women of child-bearing age.

 

As told to Mercy Kolok, Communications Officer, UNICEF South Sudan.

 

Ed: Read a related story about 12-year-old Zahra, a Syrian refugee in Jordan.

 

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