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Ahead of International Women’s Day, the Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum, in collaboration with Reproductive Health Uganda under the Power to Youth program, conducted impactful school outreaches on March 6th and 7th, 2024, in Katakwi district, with a focus on addressing period poverty and menstrual hygiene challenges prevalent in the country.

The outreach teams visited Toroma Secondary School, St. Steven Secondary School, Toroma Girls Primary School, and Toroma Boys Primary School, conducting engaging sessions covering puberty, personal growth, menstrual hygiene, and access to accurate information. Importantly, they equipped both girls and boys with knowledge on menstrual hygiene and dispelled myths and misconceptions surrounding menstruation. The outreaches equipped young people, including boys, with accurate information that drives menstrual injustice and period stigma among girls, equipping them with the skills to make reusable sanitary pads as a sustainable means of addressing period poverty.

During these sessions, young people courageously shared their challenges, including stigma, a lack of wash facilities, and insufficient disposal options for pads. Remarkably, boys actively participated, signaling a positive shift in attitudes towards menstruation.

“It is interesting to hear from the pupils and students the challenges they face in their periods, and what is even more exciting is seeing boys actively involved and willing to learn more about menstruation,” said Norah Nakyegera, the advocacy and campaigns officer at UYAHF.

She emphasized the significance of boys’ involvement in combating menstrual stigma and supporting menstruating girls. She highlighted the importance of breaking traditional norms that isolate and stigmatize girls and women. Norah notes that such gestures from the boys mean a lot in the various efforts towards addressing menstrual stigma and ensuring support for menstruating girls in the communities. She adds that issues of menstruation traditionally have been seen as concerns of girls, while boys and men did not only isolate and neglect the girls and women but also called them stigmatizing names like “Dirty,” which she says due to the continuous sensitization and community outreaches with deliberate involvement of boys is changing the narrative.

“If we are to bring about the desired social justice that we want, then boys and men need to be brought on board at a tender age. Let us engage them when they are young to break the negative cycle that emphasizes negative social norms within our communities,” Norah emphasized.

Practical demonstrations on making reusable menstrual pads were utilized to empower the youth, providing them with sustainable solutions to period poverty. Okurut Paul, a student at Toroma Secondary School, expressed his newfound understanding of menstruation and pledged to advocate for inclusive education on the subject.

“I feel very happy that I have learned how to sow a pad; this is the first time I am learning about menstruation. At school, they always put girls alone when teaching them about menstruation, but today it is different, and I think schools should begin teaching about menstruation with us boys involved. I will ensure to speak to my father about this so that he can support me in buying a few materials, and I will also teach my mother and sister at home,”  Okurut Paul, an S.3 student, stated.

The sessions were also attended by several teachers, including senior male and female teachers and directors of studies, among others, who commended the Power to Youth program for leveraging International Women’s Day to empower students and pupils with such essential knowledge and information. Teacher Alupo Irene, a senior women’s teacher, pledged to advocate for designated private spaces for girls to manage their periods comfortably.

“The discussions and the sessions we have had today have opened our eyes to why menstruation is an important element for girls at school. As a female teacher, I am going to push for the creation of a private room at school where girls can freely change their pads as well as rest during their periods instead of using latrines. It is something I will present to the headteacher and follow it up until it is  achieved,” said Alupo Irene, a senior women teacher, Toroma Girls Primary School.

These outreaches exemplify the transformative impact of inclusive education and community engagement in breaking period stigma and empowering youth to advocate for menstrual health and dignity.