In a hilly community in Ghana’s Upper Manya Krobo district, girls and young women are raised with a lot of cultural traditions and very little knowledge about menstruation. Discussions about periods are considered taboo among families, especially between a mother and her daughter.
Girls and women in this community have had to live with various superstitions, including not being allowed to enter her home while she is menstruating which has resulted in phrase "Wese yami" which means going behind the house. Even women in royal households are prohibited from touching objects considered sacred during their menstruation.
“A lot of reproductive health issues are taboo for people to talk freely and openly about and comes with stigmatisation. Young people therefore have inadequate access to credible information on their reproductive health, including menstruation,” explains Abigail who leads the Let’s Talk (Wasieni) campaign which has created a platform for young people to discuss issues related to their sexual reproductive health.
Abigail grew up knowing little about periods and the changes a girls’ body goes through once during puberty. She recalls her shame when she first started her period in school and thought it was abnormal for her to bleed when she had not been cut by any sharp objects. The pain that followed, was to her the worst thing she had ever felt.
She recollects her mother’s reaction when she told her what had happened to her in school “She cut an old cloth into pieces for me and told me to put it in my pants to soak up the blood and wash it every time I bathed. That was all my mother ever told me about my period.”
Because menstruation is a taboo subject for discussion, many girls depend on friends for help and support during their time of the month, often resorting to unhygienic methods to manage their monthly cycle. According to Abigail, “There is so much misconception about periods that girls feel very limited during that time of the month. Aside from the menstrual pains and the hormonal imbalance a girl struggles with, she also has to contend with societal myths, which doesn’t lessen the pain in any way.”
Abigail, a former sponsored child with Plan International, decided to team up with a group of girls she met while taking part in various projects conducted by Plan International on sexual reproductive health and gender-based violence, to change the widespread misconceptions about periods. Their youth-led Let’s Talk campaign was launched in 2018.
Together, Abigail and her colleagues go into schools in the district to teach girls and young women about menstruation and explain that it is a natural part of their lives and important as it means they can now have children. They also talk to boys and teachers about how they can support girls during their periods.
“If a girl or woman is not allowed in the kitchen during her period, it means she does not eat properly. This is a huge barrier we need to advocate against. Society should accept that menstruation is a part of being a woman just as urinating is a part of life for all human beings,” Abigail says.
Abigail and her colleagues try to encourage a positive conversation and approach to the discussion on periods with girls, as well as gaining more respect from boys towards girls during their menstruation cycle. They also want to challenge period poverty through their advocacy work and have partnered with health experts’ to run a public health information programme to challenge the negative attitudes around menstruation.
During the course of a year, Abigail has noted the increasing enthusiasm that girls have when they speak about their periods. “It is very comforting to see these young girls, speak boldly and freely about what they feel when they are menstruating and their quest to know more, this empowers me because I never had this opportunity.”