Period Taboo: In Africa, sanitary pads are considered a privilege not a necessity 2017 March 14 – Posted in: Feminism, Gender Equaliy, Girls Rights, Health, Menstrual Health, Periods – Tags: ,

I first encountered the true impact of period taboo as an adolescent in Africa. I’m a British born African living in London who spent a good chunk of my pubescent years in Sierra Leone. My mum insisted we needed to go back and experience our culture which was a wonderful experience as a young black woman growing up in a western world. I have some great memories of Sierra Leone.

We enjoyed our holiday so much that we decided that it would be amazing do some schooling in this bountiful country. Bountiful to me at that point meant freedom to be outside in the warmth, to explore my personality and meet interesting individuals who would forever have an impact on my lives and the way I view the world. It was an amazing time in my life I was surrounded by strong very self sufficient women taking differing paths in their lives. You see back there, women had their own living space and so did men; it was just the way it was but I believe it strengthened female energy and made us bond on a deeper level that I don’t really see in the West.

It was considered deviant behaviour for girls, a taboo, to mix with boys and vice versa. So most things were done in secret. So when I started to have my period despite having this bond with the women in the compound, I kept it a secret for a good few months…

“It was considered deviant behaviour, a taboo, for girls to mix with boys and vice versa. So most things were done in secret. So when I started to have my period despite having this bond with the women in the compound, I kept it a secret for a good few months…”

I felt the unspoken taboo surrounding menstruation and it wasn’t something anyone really spoke or shared information about so I kept it quiet till a blood stain was discovered on my skirt. My mum had given me the heads up about it few years back being a nurse so it wasn’t a shock; but when it did happen, she wasn’t around. The discoverer took me aside and gave me the talk. With mortification, I listened patiently and with relief accepted the pads she gave me. At the time I just didn’t want to have to ask for them the loss of control wasn’t something I was used to but then I didn’t have the cash to purchase sanitary products either. In Africa, sanitary products are considered a privilege not a necessity as there are other issues “more pressing” issues such as education, healthcare, food and the daily cost of living so this is one of the things that isn’t considered important even though it deprives the woman of her dignity. I lived in a house with maids, who I saw many times with blood stains on their legs! It was really disturbing so I always felt compelled to give them my pads not knowing where I would get my next batch! The struggle was real! It’s tough but this is the reality of the situation out there and its not a minor issue. I have even cut pads in half where girls were desperately needing protection for their period! No one should have to suffer in silence or struggle to get hold of sanitary products. It should be every woman’s right, no sorry it IS every woman’s right to have a period that is stress free period where they have easy access and reasonable priced, hygienic sanitary products – women need to feel empowered to embrace the changes in their body especially young women not feel ashamed!

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