For the first time since the HerWASH project began, youth working on the project from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Burkina Faso, had an opportunity to meet and discuss their work. On Saturday, March 12, former HerWASH Program Officer for Canada World Youth, Sarah Limbombe moderated a virtual panel with three groups of youth volunteering with HerWASH.
HerWASH is a WaterAid Canada program, in partnership with WaterAid country and local partners, funded by Global Affairs Canada, for which Canada World Youth supports youth leadership and engagement initiatives. The program is focused on providing quality, gender-responsive, and age-appropriate menstrual health and hygiene education to adolescents and girls in targeted countries.
“Talking about menstruation and hygiene, it was seen as a taboo” said Adem, a young woman speaking from Liberia, “As champions we are there to fix this taboo. I’ve actually been able to change the mentality around menstruation.”
When their work began, said Adjua, another Liberian participant, “the young girls found it difficult to confidently express what they were going through.” When women are on their periods, she explained, they are viewed as dirty and are discriminated against and teased.
According to WaterAid Canada, in some areas women and girls are not allowed to prepare food, touch drinking water, or dine with their families while they are menstruating. Several of the participants said that young girls in their communities are not prepared for getting their first period.
“Often what happens is, the young girl will feel embarrassed or ashamed, and so because of that she doesn’t attend school, or when she is on her cycle, the school doesn’t have the appropriate facilities to be able to still allow her to excel” explained Sarah.
The youth champions said that educating community members about menstruation helped shift local attitudes towards women’s periods. “It’s actually a natural part of being a female, biologically, if a woman doesn’t menstruate then how will we have children?” said Adjua.
Nadina, from the group in Burkina Faso, said that in her community they started clubs in some of the schools to empower girls and teach them about their bodies. They performed theatrical sketches and slam poetry to engage the younger kids in learning about menstrual health and hygiene.
We’re already seeing positive changes, Siata from Sierra Leone told the panel, “by now if you go to the various targeted schools, you will see that there are children who will talk to you about menstruation, nobody is shy, nobody is afraid of talking about menstruation.”
A huge salute to the young women and men working on HerWASH. Changing attitudes and breaking harmful stereotypes takes time and sustained effort. Groups from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Burkina Faso will reconvene to plan a campaign for World Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th. You can support youth who are working towards meaningful change around the world. Donate to CWY-JCM and help empower young people.