A Closer Look at Menstrual Hygiene Management


It’s Gerardine, SHE's Junior Marketing Officer, and while it's a been while since my last post, I have so much news to share! Last week, I met with the UNICEF team that is doing a research project to learn more about menstrual health management (MHM) at the school level. I met a variety of people from different institutions including the Ministry of Heath, local hospitals, and WaterAid. 

Gerardine (fifth from left) representing SHE at a UNICEF discussion about MHM at schools.
We came together to discuss how sanitation facilities and physical environments of schools serve as a barrier to the wellness and freedom of adolescent girls while they are menstruating.

After discussing this issue from the practitioner point-of-view, I was excited to learn directly from the girls themselves. My colleague Alphonsine and I led a focus group and met 16 awesome young ladies residing in the Gisimba orphanage. During our conversation, these ladies shared their experiences of when they first began menstruating, and one young lady shared a story that caused everyone to laugh.

“I am now 15 years old, but was 12 years old when my period first started. I was playing football (soccer) with boys. Someone kicked me in the stomach while playing, so when I later went to the toilet and saw my white underpants suddenly change to a red color, I thought I was injured from that earlier kick! I burst into teams and told my friends what happened. They assured me that I wasn’t injured, but that I finally begun puberty. They showed me how to use a pad, and while it was uncomfortable initially, I am now used to wearing pads.”

All the girls shared their experiences, namely the challenges they face which not only include accessing pads when needed. “I was at school when my period began while still in primary school. There were no pads available, so I had to use my notebook paper and it was embarrassing!” shared a 12 year old girl. Proper and safe disposal is also a challenge for girls while menstruating since many of them lack access to a safe, clean, private space to properly dispose of used pads. “The toilets are far from the classes, in addition to this, they also stink!” reported a 16 year old young woman. Many of the girls are so scared to dispose of pads in latrines and getting called out or mocked at school, that they impose a period of self-isolation.

At the end of our discussion, the girls had many questions about menstrual hygiene and the ins and outs of menstruation, which my colleague Alphonsine, SHE’s National Health Education Director answered. Adolescent girls can never have enough education when it comes to managing their menstrual period more effectively, and SHE is leading the way by instigating at the national level to have our education content incorporated among all schools so girls have access not only to menstrual pads, but to the health and hygiene resources and knowledge.

Until next time,

A New Class of Women Entrepreneurs

Hey there!

I have been with SHE for 3 weeks, and I wanted to share with you what I have learned so far as a new instigator on Team SHE. The first day, I was curious to know everything about  SHE, and had plenty of questions to ask to everyone. I appreciate the way everyone helped me to find my place within SHE.

Recently, I attended the graduation ceremony of 32 women entrepreneurs, part of the Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women Entrepreneurs Certificate Program, listening  to their testimonies was inspiring.They were smart ladies owning their businesses and able to bring up their children without depending on their husbands or begging .they told us before attending the program they had trouble differenciating income &expenses, and managing their employees etc., They also promised as to not disappoint us in future, and that they will do their best to expand what they have already.

Lastly, I learned more about the cultural beliefs and taboos associated with menstruation. I am excited to lead my first focus group discussion soon, and to dig deeper into the mindset of our target customers. I can’t wait to meet these young ladies soon!

- Gerardine, Junior Marketing Officer, Rwanda

Flashing Lights - Press Day for Cartier's Women Initiative Awards

The SHE team  recently entered The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards and out of over 200 submissions, we are one of 3 finalists in the sub-Saharan region.  Needless to say, I’m beyond thrilled!

All the finalists recently had to go on a press conference in Johannesburg, South  Africa where we met with the Sub-Saharan regional jury, press from around the region and the other 2 finalists in our category. 

I was not only impressed by the press buzz going on around us 3 finalists, since that is what the press are paid to do and thank God for their expertise, but also by meeting great women out there rolling their heads in all corners trying to figure out Africa’s next best solutions - from South Africa's PUO founder to Kenya’s co-founder of Sanergy to us at the SHE corridors, in addition to the other women in attendance. All off these women have great success stories to share - as journalists, or mentors, or export market developers. 

I thought to myself "If men can get a sabbatical for one year, and the women are put in charge, one can only imagine the amount of change we women will be able to accomplish."

Follow our journey from press week to the Award week in Deauville, France in October, where the winners will be announced! 

- Julian, SHE COO, Rwanda

What I Learned about MENstruation - Sylvere's POV

SHE is at its vibrant stage -- we are now up to our pilot phase, after traveling thousand of miles seeking different banana fiber suppliers. We now have chosen two cooperatives to work with us, and the extractor Machines are ready to be handed over to them. Before the extraction begins, we will train the farmers how to use the extractors.

Another part of our pilot  phase is developing our brand strategy. I have been amazed to be a part of the focus group conducted by Connie. The focus groups were really amazing, since I was the only”HE” among hundreds of  “SHEs,”  i.e., school girls across rural villages in Kayonza.

The girls also asked us a lot of questions and it was not so easy to respond to each and every single question that they asked us. Normally in Rwandan culture, it is taboo to talk about reproductive health issues like menstruation and puberty. 

Historically, some women and girls used to dig a short whole in the ground and spent like the entire day sitting on top of it while menstruating. It's completely different now, but menstruation is still considered a taboo nowadays. 

You may wonder how I could be comfortable with talking about menstruation, but for me it was not a big deal to talk about this issue with school girls since I studied biology and reproductive health. In addition. I am very experienced in public speaking and so I know how to ask the right questions politely to break down these social and cultural barriers.

Can you spot the HE in SHE? Junior Business Development Analyst Sylvere with girls and women of SACCA.
The most surprising thing that one young women said during one of our focus groups at the Street Ahead Children’s Center Association (SACCA) is that she described the menstruation as a common disease for girls. I realized then that it's incredibly important  for  girls and women to have proper menstrual hygiene education. I also wish they should be taught how to manage their period when it comes.

Boys also should learn  more about menstrual health too! They need to understand it and respect the difference between men and women, so that they do not stigmatize a girls while they are menstruating. They have to be trained to about that too. Many of these boys will become fathers of some girls too in the future, so what impression will they give to their daughters if they make girls and women feel  shameful or embarrassed about menstruation?

Overall, I learned that girls need to be aware of what menstruation means and how it changes their bodies before it begins. I also learned that girls need additional support when it comes to access to clean, safe, and hygienic products and facilities so they can protect their health and their privacy.

- Sylvere