In the face of myths and secrecy surrounding menstruation, hygiene outreach worker Kiran takes to the classroom to tackle the topic.
In Pakistan, cultural and religious taboos have left menstruation shrouded in secrecy – and girls in the dark about how to manage their periods. Kiran is a hygiene outreach worker in Badin district who is trying to increase understanding about periods through the classroom.
Thirteen-year-old Sadori is just one of the pupils Kiran has helped to reach.
Sadori, a pupil at the Government Girls Middle School, now knows that when she has her period, she can simply walk up to the Champion of the Menstrual Hygiene Management Club to ask for a sanitary towel.
It might be a little embarrassing, but it’s also a huge relief. Since Kiran started visiting the school over a year ago, it’s become a much more supportive environment for girls.
“When I’m at home I use cloth as a pad and wash it for reuse. But when I’m at school I can use sanitary napkins,” Sadori explains. “Now I don’t have to worry about getting blood stains on my school uniform.”
Thanks to funding from the H&M Conscious Foundation, Kiran and her colleagues are working in schools across Badin to increase understanding about menstrual hygiene management.
The foundation has also committed to installing girl-friendly toilets at the Government Girls Middle School, where there is currently just one toilet for 450 female students.
'We are so secretive about menstruation’
While working in Badin, Kiran has heard all sorts of myths surrounding periods.
“When I started menstruating at the age of 11, my grandmother told me that I should not eat meat or eggs or drink milk during this time, as they would be harmful to me,” says Neelam, 14.
“We are so secretive about menstruation. I was reluctant to ask anyone about it.”
And it’s not just young girls who find it awkward to talk about the topic. Abida, one of Kiran’s colleagues, says: “Initially, the teachers would refuse to let us inside the schools to talk about this delicate issue.”
“Our biggest achievement has been the acceptance of teachers to start the conversation about menstrual hygiene.”
Opening up about periods
Kiran’s sessions have helped students to manage their periods hygienically and avoid infection – as well as fostering a more open environment at the schools where she works.
Feroza Jummani, Headteacher at the Government Girls Middle School, has seen a transformation in her students since Kiran’s work there began: “Before attending the menstrual hygiene sessions, the girls were shy to contact teachers if they came to school unprepared for their period.”
“These sessions have given them confidence, and the menstrual hygiene kit is a blessing.”