For most young girls in the country, lack of sanitary materials during menstruation often leads to school dropouts.
For the few who continue with the education, however, menstruation means being absent from school for four to five days every month which is detrimental to their grades.
Menstruation, a key sign of reproductive health is a normal biological process. It is the natural monthly occurrence in any healthy adolescent girl. The onset can occur anytime between the ages of 8 and 16.
In addition to persisting taboos, women and girls’ capacity to manage their periods is affected by a number of other factors, including limited access to affordable and hygienic sanitary materials and disposal options leaving many to manage their periods in ineffective, uncomfortable and unhygienic ways.
In an attempt to support adolescent girls and help them continue with education, many organisations in the country, including Girls Empowerment Network (Genet), Girls with Vision Association (Gwava) have resorted to distributing sanitary pads.
Care for Girls Campaign also recently jumped on the bandwagon, all in an effort to ensure that girls do not miss school and productive work days to fall behind their male counterparts.
Founded by 25-year-old Glory Muva, Care for Girls Campaign has, since March last year been distributing free sanitary pads and writing materials to girls in rural schools, just to ensure that menstruation is not the reason they miss school.
“We buy disposable sanitary pads and distribute, but sometimes we produce reusable ones. We learned the art of making washable sanitary towels from a certain woman in Lilongwe who sells the same,” says Muva, whose organisation now boasts of over 100 members.
Care for Girls Campaign has members in all the constituent colleges of the University of Malawi (Unima) and is represented in the corporate world through those who graduated. It falls under Maestro’s Leadership Company.
Muva states that the idea to reach out to girls in that way stemmed from her passion to be there for fellow young women in need in the country.
“We only target vulnerable students for the free sanitary towels distribution. So, when we get to the schools we only ask for those that are under bursary,” she says.
The team puts together funds to buy materials used for producing the washable pads or to buy the disposable ones. They recently secured funding from United States Embassy, which also helped them to advance the initiative.
From the time they embarked on the initiative last year, Care for Girls Campaign has been to a number of schools in the country and some of them include Limbe and Chigumula Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS), Lupaso CDSS and Montfort Demonstration School in Chiradzulu, among others.
“At the moment, we are targeting only the schools that are close to us because our resources are limited. It is our dream to reach out far and wide, but we can only do so much.
“It is saddening to read in the national papers about some rural girls even going to the extent of improvising with leaves for sanitary wear. The need is big and we need to reach out and assist the girls,” she says.
Apart from distributing the sanitary pads, she states that they also talk to the girls about general menstrual hygiene, with the idea of breaking the silence among them on menstrual matters.
“Menstruation happens with every girl, the girls need to know that. We do understand that most rural girls need support in their menstrual journey, in terms of how they can handle themselves as well as the materials to use. We also tackle the myths surrounding menstruation when we talk to the girls.
“For instance, some people believe that menstrual cramps would stop if they sleep with a man, but we dismiss such myths. We would like to expand our work because we know there is need to reach out to a lot more girls that need assistance,” she says.
She further points out that Care for Girls Campaign is looking to partner with other organisations dealing with gender issues so that the girl is assisted.
“We need to ensure that girls remain in school and be empowered in the end. We believe that when a girl gets an education she will be able to provide for not only herself, but for her family and community at large,” she explains adding that their catch phrase Care for Girls, for the benefit of all is derived on that.
Muva, an ambassador for Maestro’s Leadership International, has just completed her studies in Land Economy at The Malawi Polytechnic. She is a Young African Leaders Initiative (Yali) first cohort alumnus.
She attained her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) in 2008, from the Henry Henderson Institute (HHI) Secondary School.
The young woman was born on December 14 1991 at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), but never had the chance to meet her father as he passed away when she was only 11 months old. She and her two older siblings have been raised by their mother.
Born and raised in Blantyre, Muva states that in her mother she has seen the strength of a woman which has demonstrated to her that with determination, one can accomplish anything.
For years, her mother has worked at Banja la Mtsogolo, supporting her brother, sister and herself to go to school and be able to live better lives in future.
Her simple advice to younger girls is that anything is possible if they set their minds to it and that with God, they can accomplish anything.
“With vision and the right people surrounding you, you can achieve just about anything. My pastor Apostle Joseph Ziba, my mentor Charles Lipenga and my mother had faith in my dreams and they have brought me where I am,” she says.