Irise International works to support the education and empowerment of women and girls in East Africa through addressing the neglected issue of menstrual hygiene management. In this series of blog, we look at how menstrual hygiene can affect all girls in a range of cultures and environments. In this interview, Grace and Ritah explain their experiences of working with Irise as local research assistants in Ishaka, Uganda. All over the world women and girls are held back from their full potential, and we want this to change. To find out more about the work Irise do please visit www.irise.org.uk.
An Interview with Irise Educators
- Why did you want to work for Irise?
Grace: I like working for Irise because I enjoy associating and working with people. I like that Irise has the aim of people making a positive impact where menstruation is concerned.
Ritah: Basically, when I heard about Irise and that they were helping Ugandan girls stay in school I was very interested. I wanted to be part of the group which teaches girls about menstruation.
- Can you explain what you do in your job?
Ritah: I did many things. I was doing some translation, menstruation education. I did some interviews with the school girls and talked to them in small groups. I then transcribed what we talked about.
- What have you learnt through working with Irise?
Grace: Before I started working with Irise, I previously did not have enough knowledge about menstruation. I have also learnt more how to associate with people and how to talk about menstruation.
Ritah: I have learnt to be a lot more patient and listen more when hearing responses to questions. I have also learnt communication skills from when I was talking to lots of people. I have also learnt to talk to the head teachers because before I did not have that confidence.
- What was the most common thing which the school girls did not understand or did not know before the education sessions?
Ritah: It would really depend on the school. Most girls did not understand their menstrual cycle or really what menstruation was. There were questions in interviews because they did not know how to wash their private parts. The girls also did not know how to not get pregnant.
Grace: Most girls did not know about their menstrual cycle or where the blood comes from. Many girls believed that the blood comes from the egg and when the egg cracks the blood comes out.
- What did the girls you spoke to know about menstrual hygiene before you worked with them?
Grace: The girls really did not know much. What they knew they found out from fellow friends. This is not something that they would want to talk to parents about.
- What was your experience of being a school girl in Uganda?
Grace: It was a bit hard. We don’t talk much with our parents and it would be strange to talk to teachers because we fear them. So we have no information about menstruation. There are a few people who will read newspapers or literary information but this sometimes is wrong.
Ritah: My experience was not so bad because I went to a school with lots of girls. It was a boarding school so there were lots of people I could talk to their about menstruation.
- Can you tell me about the problems you think girls face while they are menstruating?
Grace: Most girls don’t really have self-esteem already and so when they start menstruation they feel too shy to go to school. They expect that people, especially the boys, will recognise that they are menstruating and laugh at them. There is also a lack of materials like pads and knickers. There are not the necessary facilities such as a private room to change pads.
Ritah: Sometimes girls can become discouraged. They think that they are the only ones going through menstruation. They find it hard to concentrate in school. Sometimes they get teased by the boys and this also makes it hard to concentrate.
- How do you think the work Irise do will change girls’ education in Uganda?
Grace: Irise has helped a number of girls with pads. Some girls were purchasing pads which were very expensive in the past. Irise has also helped with self-esteem. We teach that menstruation happens to everyone and so they are not alone and this builds up self-esteem. I think that it helped them knowing how the pains are made during menstruation and how to reduce them.
Ritah: Irise is good because it focuses on making girls able to stay in school. Through Irise they know a lot because they are taught how to deal with menstruation. They are taught how to help each other and know how to deal with the pain. Everyone should know that menstruation is normal and so they shouldn’t worry.
- What advice would you give to school girls starting menstruation?
Grace: I would tell her to feel free and feel ok because it is normal. I would tell her how to keep hygienic during menstruation and to talk to parents and trusted teachers about it.
Ritah: I would tell her that menstruation is normal and tell her to be ready with everything before menstruation starts like taking pads with her and things like that so she is prepared. And if there is some pain she can take pain killers.
- What do you want to do in your future?
Grace: I would like to make an impact and help people who need it. I am
finalising my studies now to become a professional accountant so I will also do that.
Ritah: I would prefer to work for an organisation, like an NGO, which are mainly concerned with a community and helping people. Like helping women and empowering women.
- Is there anything else you would like to tell me about your work or about Irise?
Grace: I think that Irise is doing a great job because girls did not know much about menstruation before and we need to tell them. Also Irise should try and reach more girls because we only talked to the girls in the study so we should work with more girls.
Ritah: I think I would like to thank the organisation for the power they have put into it and all the work to keep Ugandan girls in school.
Many girls in Uganda are unable to access sanitary products, or education about their menstrual health. Irise is changing this! To find out more about the work Irise does, or to donate this Christmas, please visit www.irise.org.uk.
The content of this blog may contain personal views which are not the views of Irise International unless specifically stated. This blog is part of a series of blogs used to promote awareness of menstrual health and gender equality. All photo ©FridaBjørneseth.