I watched in horror as her legs parted and her underwear slid down her naked thighs - a white diaper like contraption stuck on the surface of the knicker and then pulled up back SNAP on her waistline. Should i be seeing this? As if she read my thoughts my paternal aunt answered me as surely as she would always smack my butt when i knew i had done something wrong.
"My dear daughter, your time will come." Do not be puzzled." It may be painful for you or maybe not." I can't promise it won't but it will come."
What was she rambling on about i wondered! Then she continued.
"When you are older you will understand. All you need to know is that it called a period and you will bleed from time to time."
I was only 8 years old and this became my defining moment on the topic of menstruation. My paternal aunt was my first source of information. A year later, my secondary source of information became my primary school that invited the sanitary pad company "Always" to explain to all girls including us 2nd grade students (who i thought years later were too young too understand) about menstruation and the cycle. It was still gibberish to me. I was a tomboy at this stage and this information didn't matter to me all i kept saying was that as long as it did not affect my running games. At the end of that session with reproductive organs on display and whole lot of Q & A from our upper primary girls, our desks got filled up with pads for just in case should a girl fall in her periods.
Six years later in my final year of primary school my period came, no drama or anything. I wasn't ready but i was aware about it earlier on, thanks to my paternal aunt and the very many sanitary pad ads on television. I got pads from my class teacher since our desks were full of them and gladly in large too thankfully to my uncle who was a doctor i did not have to tell him to buy me pads every month; he just bought it in advance; saving me the embarrassment of alerting him whenever i was due!
I was blessed to have grown up in a society and home where menstruation was understood and silently regarded as a step into adolescence and another stage of life. The very many adverts on sanitary pads and tampons. Sadly i cannot say the same for my peers who shared with me their stories of their first period and the young girls back in my country who face this with loads of challenges especially to their education.
I was chanced to be in my compound at home one day when i heard my neighbor wailing. Being the concerned neighbor, i ran over to find out if she was okay. When i found out why she was crying, i was dumbfounded - her little sister who had just turned 13 years old had gotten her first period; and why was she crying? well because her sister was now fertile enough to be impregnated by males and so she was a target and would become sexually active and that was not a good thing. She was right - her sister got pregnant at 16 and is now 'married' and in her marital home.
This is how menstruation is viewed in some tribes in my country - you are eligible for marriage at the onset of menstruation. The practice is gradually phasing out but not deep in the more remote regions of the country. Girls are still being forced into marriages as children which leads to many other avalanches of difficulties and outcomes in their young lives.
Although much awareness on menstruation is happening in several platforms, there is still much to be done and i believe it should begin with addressing the cultural notion which needs to be demystified concerning menstruation being a benchmark on the timeline for young girls to be married off either forcefully or not.