Girl Stuff 101

22:35 June 28, 2008
Maryundo Girl’s School
Nyamata, Rwanda

“Why do I bleed once a month?”

I thought I had at least fifteen years til I had to answer that question from a young girl, but a quick trip to Rwanda has proved to provide more life milestones than a record number of French fries consumed. Today we had our first focus groups with girls, sixty in fact, and it was eye-opening, from the candor to the liveliness to the curiosity. These girls were yearning for answers, and the questions kept on coming. Why didn’t they know about menstruation? Why haven’t they talked about this before? Ahhh, it must be because of the struggling health and education system here. Well, if that was the case, then we could just work on improving upon those systems. But, in fact, it’s more than that.

Who’s ever bought sanitary napkins or tampons and put them in an opaque bag on the way out of the store? Who’s ever apologized in front of boys and/or men for bringing up the subject of menstruating? And what about those pretty plastic cases we’re supposed to use to hold our tampons in our bag? Why are we trying to hide this natural function that is our body preparing for giving birth? Why are we so apologetic?

I think it comes down to the taboo around menstruation. And this manifests itself with a lack of communication about girls’ and women’s bodies and how they change, how naturally and healthily they change.

Why didn’t they know this? Why haven’t they talked about this before? Before I can answer that question, I think I’ll have to answer another one…..“Why did I spend more time in high school health class learning how to drive a car than about my bodily health and hygiene?”

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