Research has shown that most girls living in Rural Gambia lack menstrual hygiene awareness. During their time of the month, they utilize unhygienic and unsuitable cloths, which exposes them to different types of infections. They have little or no knowledge about reproductive tract infections caused by lack of education around personal hygiene during menstruation. Additionally, sanitary products are pricey, and most cannot afford. Most girls miss many days of school in the year due to their cycle. These issues are not being addressed because conversations about menstruation are taboo in Gambian society. However, the knowledge that girls need to take care of themselves and avoid health complications should not be kept a secret.
Due to this reality, Oumie Faal, a Woman Boss School Ambassador, decided to make menstrual hygiene awareness her community project. Under this initiative, The Woman Boss was able to reach 50 girls between the ages of 12 and 20 at the St. Francis Upper Basic School in Kungkujang Mariama. On the 16th of December 2020, we donated 50 packs of reusable sanitary pads and provided a safe environment to discuss the misconceptions and myths surrounding menstruation. Oumie Faal also gave a detailed presentation on tracking menstrual cycles, the process of how to use the reusable sanitary pads and the complications that may arise if used inappropriately.
On Monday, April 26th, 2021, months after conducting the training, we went back to St. Francis Upper Basic School to survey the impact of the pad drive. The responses we got were amazing!
The girls reflected on the conversations we had back in December and highlighted some of the changes they have made around menstrual hygiene. Unlike our first visit, they were much more open about the problems they were facing before the pad drive, such as the inability to afford disposable sanitary pads, the discomfort of having to sit in a classroom constantly thinking about the blood stains you may be leaving on your clothes, and the overall inadequate adult guide they were experiencing.
When talking about her first-time experiencing menstruation, Oumie Badjie (pictured on the left) recalls being told by her mother, “You are now an adult, you should be careful around boys”. She goes on to explain, “That is all I was told. Therefore, the majority of us are clueless. From there, we began to rely on myths shared by our peers who were just as clueless as we were”.
The conversation continued and another one of the students, Kombeh Baldeh (pictured in the center), shared one of her family’s myths surrounding menstruation. “My grandmother advised me against using sanitary pads because she has this notion that someone can harm me spiritually if I use them and dispose of them. With the reusable sanitary pads received from The Woman Boss, she had no reason to object”.
As we wrapped up at St Francis Upper Basic School, Adama Bah (pictured on the right) expressed her gratitude for The Woman Boss’ initiative- led by our High School Ambassador, Oumie Faal. “I will be forever grateful for what you have done for us. Before the pad drive, having my period was a nightmare. I used to feel disgusted and ashamed to talk to anyone about the issues I was faced with. I am thankful for the reusable sanitary pads”.
This initiative has had a huge impact not only on the 50 girls who received training and the pads, but their communities as well. The girls went back home and shared the information from our training with their peers who were not in attendance. The health and comfort of all girls in The Gambia is a collective responsibility. We all have a role to play when it comes to ending taboos, secrecy, and myths attached to menstruation.
Aji Isatou Nyan
Intern and Woman Boss High School Ambassador
Aji Isatou Nyan
A safe environment for girls to be able to learn and grow into confident and healthy young women should be mandatory in every society.