Girls in Sierra Leone face many challenges to just stay in school. They miss school when they fall ill from contaminated water, like the boys, but on top of that, they also miss school regularly as a result of menstruation. They have trouble affording hygiene products and often lack the facilities to manage their periods hygienically and privately. Education on these topics are also lacking.
According to UNESCO, millions of girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss up to 30% of school during their menstrual cycles. This could equal 12 weeks of absenteeism per school year or more than 2.5 full years of total schooling before graduating from high school. This compromises their studies more and gives boys another advantage in society, in their studies!
Girls miss class for fear of staining their clothes, or not have places to dispose of their menstrual materials. In our preliminary research, girls have never had any type of education about subjects like pubery, reproduction and menstruaction. Many adolescents girls are unprepared to have their period and do not have the necessary knowledge about menstruation.
When we spoke to mothers at our partner school in Sierra Leone, they told us that they were so happy to have educational sessions on sexual reproduction and hygiene as they never received that type of knowledge, in school, nor from their own parents. We learned that its common for communities to consider periods as shameful; a curse from God; something unclean and dirty.
In rural communities, the taboo of periods goes as far as women being separated from men and their families during menstruation because their community believes that it will bring bad luck to men and boys. In addition, some women cannot cook or go near food, nor pray, during menstruation because pf this “uncleanliness.” Girls are warned of disposing their pads in the wrong places as “blood in the wrong hands can be used in witchcraft practices” against them.
SHE-SHELTERS, A COMPLETE MENSTRUAL HYGIENE MANAGMENT SOLUTION:
To help keep girls in school, we have developed an award-winning program, dubbed SHE SHELTERS. The project has 3 pillars:
1) PERIOD KITS to provide washable, reusable period underwear kits. Each kit is locally made by women in the village and contains washable period underwear, cotton liners, plastic bags for washing and storage, soap and an instruction booklet.
2) EDUCATION to provide sexual health and reproduction education for the students. We provide separate sessions to the teenage girls, one for the boys and one for the girls' mothers. An education booklet on sexual education will be given to each child. We also have a 'big sister' mentor on the committee of Serve4Good, a university medical student' who can offer private advice to a girl.
3) SHE SHELTERS to build a girls-only cabin, we call "She Shelters" on each school site. The cabin is a bright and clean place with a locked door, which has running water, a shower head, hooks and a bench making it a place girls are happy to change in and wash up when they are menstruating.
Building on the success of our pilot project, these gestures will help end the cycle of poverty for females by helping them stay in school as a start. Though stigmas are deeply engrained, I’m helping these girls redefine what it means to be a Sierra Leonean female, eradicating entrenched views of the female body as impure, taboo and shameful.
Pillar 1: Washable/reusable period underwear kits
Pillar 2: Education on sexual health and reproduction, girls and boys
Pillar 3: She-shelters, girls only cabins for changing and washing up
Our "She Shelters" project was a winner of the Swiss Water Partnership Water Challenge 2022. Thank you SWP for the seed funding and support.
The project was also recognised with a Distinguished Service Award from the Government of Malimba, Port Loko District, Sierra Leone
Please help support
to keep girls in school
in Sierra Leone.