Featured Storyteller

RWANDA: Access to Sanitary Products Is Not Enough

Posted December 19, 2017 from United States
Photo courtesy of Patricia Sugi

Patricia Sugi shares her first period story and asks us to come together to help vulnerable girlsembrace menstruation.

“Now, I even brag when I have my menstrual cycle.

Sisters, I invite you to close your eyes and remember your first menstrual cycle.

What were your immediate thoughts? And now when your cycle comes, how do you welcome it?

When I first saw blood in my panties, I almost collapsed! It was disastrous, and I was so afraid.

Being a hypochondriac didn’t help. I was overcome with fear that I had contracted a shameful illness that caused blood to leak out of my vagina, a part of my body that had always been associated with sinful activities. I remembered an aunt who had treated my childhood nosebleeds by moistening my nasal membranes with Vaseline. My 9-year-old self believed my vagina had dried up with blisters due to the dry, hot season and that it needed moistening too.

I hid my “disease” for 3 months. It wasn’t until I stained my favorite light green shorts and had to stop playing with my friends to clean it off that I realized I had a serious issue.

I needed to raise the horror with my elders. Deep in me, I knew that I didn’t do anything wrong, yet I was nervous when I faced my aunt.

“Tantine, I really don’t know what is happening to me, but I am heavily bleeding…there,” I said.

“I have tried your trick with Vaseline, and it is not working. I swear Tantine, I swear, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The memory is still fresh in my mind. I was waiting to be punished, but it was the health risk that worried me most. My aunt was surprised by the early onset of menstruation, but, to my relief, she declared me a woman and gave me some protocols to follow when attending to one’s cycle. Then she cautioned me to be careful around males as I was now susceptible to pregnancy.

It was encouraging that I wasn’t in trouble, but I was still unsure about her teachings and warnings. And for a long time, I hated my periods. I did not embrace them until we started learning about menstruation in school and some of my friends started their periods, too. Then I had a sense of belonging.

Thinking about my journey with my menstrual cycle, I am grateful to have grown to appreciate it today. Now, I even brag when I have it. I feel more feminine and alive, even when I have horrible cramps.

Why am I telling you about my personal journey? I am speaking up because there are girls out there who still go through serious hardships during their cycles.

There has been progress through collective social advocacy. Now, many young women know more about menstruation and there are outreach programs that give girls access to sanitary supplies. Today, pads are even distributed in schools to decrease girls’ absenteeism from class. Cups, reusable pads, sponges, and other innovative products are designed to provide us with comfort when our uterus is shedding blood. We are more confident and less stressed about “staining” our clothes…

But access to pads and products is not enough. What happens if you are a girl who has access to all the sanitary supplies, but can’t afford underwear to support your padding? Or if you don’t have clean running water for the cup or sponge? What if you’re about to get your period and you’re panicked, wondering if you will be able to rent clean underwear at the school office?

Most of us have never been in that situation. These difficulties never occurred to me. However, many young girls around the world are vulnerable to these horrible experiences every month. They own few to no underwear. As a result, some schools use their stressed budgets to buy underwear for girls to rent during their monthly cycles.

I ask, how can a young woman ever embrace her womanhood when her dignity is compromised the moment she is forced to wear rented underwear? How can we support these girls to embrace their womanhood as I have done, and as many of you have likely done?

Let us come together to share ideas for how to bring girls all around the world out of hiding and into the schools and communities where they belong. Because only then can we all benefit from their beautiful gifts.


This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller!Learn more.

How to Get Involved

Patricia Sugi has a vision to start a campaign called One Pad, One Underwear for Vulnerable Girls. If you are interested in helping her start a project to address the issue of menstrual hygiene, leave a comment on this story, or send her a private message on World Pulse.

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