No one ever told me of menstruation and the use of sanitary pads, not even about irregular periods and spotting between periods. Later in life I listened to many talks on menstruation, but was never told about a ‘back up plan’. Many times, while in the public I felt wetness in my pants and then in my dress. Sometimes I thought it was vaginal discharges, but no often it was red. Worst still, sometimes I felt nothing but would feel a gentle touch most often of an elderly woman or a close friend, and a soft whisper in my ears; ‘Please your dress is stained’. Still, sometimes, I just felt someone tying a loincloth around my waist.
Whenever I experienced this, my joy would immediately fade out as I wonder about how many people had seen my stained dress, what they thought about me and what they would tell others. In my confused state, I used to hear people murmuring. “How can a mature girl not take care of herself”, some said. Others would even rush into a conclusion of what must have caused the stain as I could hear them saying, “She must have committed an abortion, this kind of flow is not normal”.
Feeling very guilty, I used to make excuses like “my bag was too small for an extra sanitary pad,” “I changed the bag I put my pad in,” “I wasn’t expecting,” and “it came earlier than normal.”. Gradually, I began to realise how demeaning such excuses were to me as a person. The worst part of my experience was my futile attempts to get a spare sanitary pad from people around. It turned out many people hardly carry pads with them thinking they wouldn’t need it.
I can remember many times in my school, workplace, church, and outdoor events when I noticed girls and women feeling uncomfortable and frantically trying to cover their wet dress. For some, it was their first period but for others they did not just expect it. Often some females have walked up to me asking if I had an extra pad.
At other times, I have been visited by a women caught up in their period in my neighbourhood, unprepared visited me, asking to use my bathroom. Many who in such circumstances were able to muster courage and rise above such an embarrassment to have a conversation with me have always expressed frustration. A woman told me in my house, “I was really embarrassed in public, it’s a shame.” Every day, a woman is cut up in their period in the markets, buses, offices, restaurants unprepared.
While education is more and more making women to understand that menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of, there is need to equally educate girls and women on the need for a ‘backup plan’ everywhere they go.
One day I thought to myself and came to the conclusion that it was time to take action, and be the change I wanted to see for girls and women in my community. I started to research on menstruation, trying to understand how women experience spotting, mid-cycle bleeding, irregular and very heavy bleeding. I learned that sometimes the time between the period is lengthened, shortened or becomes unpredictable. I understood that menstrual irregularities can have a variety of causes, including pregnancy, hormonal imbalances, birth control pills, infections, diseases, trauma, and certain medications. Irregular menstrual cycle is unique to each woman. Beside medical solutions, there is always need for ‘a pad in the bag’.
I eventually did a random sample of about 50 women and found that only 2 per cent always carried extra ‘pads in their bags’ because of previous experiences. The rest had pads before and during their menstrual period. When I sampled participants’ opinion, many acknowledged the need to always put a pad in the bag. With enormous encouragement, I resolved to organize a campaign with the slogan:
“Pad in Her Bag”
The ‘pad in her bag’ campaign has taken off in community with great education and sensitization already taking place. For many girls and even women, this is eye opening. My goal now is for every female to have a pad in her bag at all times. Like their mobile phones, they need to make carrying a pad in their bag a habit.
The first campaign was organized among the youths in my neighborhood and in a local church. I partnered with a male who supported me with packs of sanitary pads for greater awareness. Apart from encouraging girls to put pad in their bags, we raise awareness on menstruation and the proper use of sanitary pads. What really amazed me is the great reception, appreciation and steam the campaign has gained among members of my community. . I am currently, seeking ways to network with other development actors nationally and internationally to proceed to scale up the initiative to more communities (Churches, schools, offices, Organization).
Our cry is;
For every Woman ‘A sanitary pad in the bag’
For every Organization, Church, School ‘Sanitary Pads in the ladies’ bathrooms’
For every event, ‘Pad in the ladies’ bathroom’ as well.
Why I involved men and boys in the Campaign
Primarily, my target was women and girls. While exploring strategies to scale up the campaign, I came across a man who had sanitary pads in his bag. According to him his wife is keen about a particular sanitary pad brand, thus he makes sure it is always in his bag. Besides, that, he works with Women Health services and had noticed many girls moving around looking for pads in times of emergency. During my first campaign, he provided 15 packs of sanitary pad to facilitate the ‘Pad in Her Bag Campaign’. Since then, I have been working with other male partners in the campaign.