Featured Storyteller

RWANDA: Access to Sanitary Products Is Not Enough

Posted December 19, 2017 from Rwanda

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.

Comments 8

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Dec 22, 2017
Dec 22, 2017

Thank you for for sharing this awareness. 

Tamarack Verrall
Dec 23, 2017
Dec 23, 2017

Dear Patricia,

Powerfully written. Through your story and your words describing what so many girls still experience, you open the doors wider toward understanding and the possibility of real change. Underwear for girls needs to be a global movement for all the reasons you make clear.

In sisterhood,


Sarah Sisu
Jan 06, 2018
Jan 06, 2018

Dear Patricia,

Your words are as thoughtful as they are well written. Have you heard of Days for Girls? https://www.daysforgirls.org/ Their vision is similar to yours, they provide underwear (reusable) and (reusable) pads for girls. Perhaps you would be interested in connecting with them. :) 



Queen Sheba D Cisse
Jan 17, 2018
Jan 17, 2018

Great ideas Patricia, so looking forward to read more of your project in the near future. I do agree to research(google) as many resourceful avenues and to join forces of likeminded others,organizations , etc whom share your vision for empowerment to girls globally! 

This is a Cause worth rooting for!

Best success,


Trine Angeline Sig
Jan 18, 2018
Jan 18, 2018

Dear Patricia,

Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts. Through my company, Real Relief we also work to educate girls and make re-usable pads readily available.

You can find more info. on www.realreliefway.com or on our social media platforms.

Real Relief social medias 






Trine Sig social medias




You are also welcome to contact me directly to explore how we can break the silence together :-)

All the best from Denmark,


Wendy Stebbins
Jan 19, 2018
Jan 19, 2018

You are such an inspiration. I will share this with young teen girls in Zambia. Thank you

Wendy Stebbins

Lily Habesha
Apr 18, 2018
Apr 18, 2018

Patricia Dear,
This such a wonderful story.
Thank you for sharing.

Jun 27, 2018
Jun 27, 2018

Thanks for sharing your story and vision to address the issue of menstrual hygiene Sugi. I also feel concerned because I've been affected by this issue and currently work on increasing access to sanitary pads and periods panties as well as a menstruation manual guide to girls in Rwanda.
Here is my campaign https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/kadablah/campaign-updates/...
Together we can end stress related to menstrual cycles