I am Millicent Akoth. I was brought up in Gogo village, Siaya district. I was 14 years old and in Primary school when I had my first menstrual experience. Even though I had been taught about menstruation in class, I had no idea when I would have my first experience but I knew that during those days most of the girls had theirs at age 14. I wasn’t prepared though, because I had no signs and no finances to buy the sanitary towels for emergency.
It was at around 12:00 noon; a male teacher was in class taking us through Mathematics lesson. I started feeling wet on my underwear and I guessed something was wrong then immediately I suspected it was my first monthly periods so I couldn’t even concentrate. I had no idea what I would do and was so scared to share to anybody. The first person I would probably have shared with would be my desk mate but my desk mate was a boy and so I couldn’t because of how I had seen boys laughing at ladies during such times if it happened that they soiled their dresses by mistake.
I was afraid to stand and go to the washroom because I thought the whole class would see my soiled dress as soon as I stood so I kept sitting but sweating profusely and not concentrating at all. When the lesson was over and people were leaving for lunch, I waited until the teacher and all the other students left class then I stood and realized my dress was badly soiled; left for home following areas where nobody could see me. During those days students would go home for lunch because it was a school serving the children in our village. On reaching the gate of the school, I saw two boys (my class mates) who had delayed in school and were also going home for lunch. I tried walking slowly so that they go but they didn’t move; they were talking to each other and so I was forced to walk past them. Immediately I passed them they saw my soiled dress and started laughing and talking so negatively about me and my menses and they followed me, still with nasty talks. I was so humiliated but went home anyway.
On my arrival home, my mom was home but was surprised why I was late for lunch and I told her I was feeling unwell but in the real sense I couldn’t stand going back to the same school and class in the afternoon because I knew the two boys had shared my story with the others and I would be more humiliated if I went back. I couldn’t eat, went straight to the house, changed my school dress and wore home clothe and asked mum if she could go to school and get my school bag as she asked for permission for me from the teacher and mum accepted.
I knew that mum could not afford sanitary towels for me so I didn’t even bother asking her. Furthermore, she wasn’t learned so she did not even know what a sanitary towel was. I took an old clothe, tore in suitable pieces, folded nicely and used as a sanitary towel. In the evening, mum saw me washing my soiled school dress and realized I had started receiving my monthly periods and I had to tell her the truth. She brought me another old clothe to use as sanitary towel and I shared with her that I already had one. Mum being aged didn’t know how to handle this well so the advice she gave me was this “my dear daughter, now you are an adult. When you are receiving your monthly periods, let no one know. Also, be very careful so that you do not have sexual intercourse with a man lest you become pregnant at the wrong time before you are married”. That’s the best advice my dear mum could give, to the best of her knowledge. Long story short, the next day when I went to school, my story was all over with boys laughing at me saying all sorts of nasty things, some singing all sorts of songs they had composed to humiliate me. I felt so terrible. I thought at some point it was evil to receive monthly periods because of what I went through.
Because of my first menstrual experience, I wouldn’t like any other girl to go through the same. I have been enlightened and I have made sure that all the young girls in my life including my daughter are enlightened and prepared for the same, they are aware that menstruation is not a taboo and that menstrual hygiene is necessary. They are happy about it. My opinion is that the time of the month when a woman / girl is receiving her monthly period is a time to be celebrated because this is one of the things that makes us unique and distinguishes us from men.
As much as menstruation is taught in schools, it is important to organize for seminars and conferences to the young girls to prepare them for their first menstrual experience so that they face it confidently. During the seminars, they can be taught on menstrual hygiene to ensure that women and girls can manage their periods in a way that is not only healthy, but that enables their full participation in school, work, and other activities. At the the seminars they can also be provided with sanitary towels and be shown how to use them because some of the young girls in the villages are too poor to even afford the towels and they still use the old clothes like I did. It's time to get the girls off the shame and humiliation by educating and supporting them. Let’s stop the stigma and celebrate menstruation!!