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Then I started using my former dera. I cut it into pieces, I hide it, just to wear it. Go to school.
So, I just went into the toilet, I didn't know what was happening. When I'm coming out, I just look back and see a stain.
It is very difficult for me being a woman, and for me being a young girl, to talk to men, especially Masai elders, about menstruation.
And one of the things about menstrual cups, and reusable products, and pads, is you need to also have access to clean water.
Hello, I am Tamima, and welcome to the Real Talk Round Table. Now, on today's episode, we are going to be addressing a very important issue, menstrual health. Unfortunately, menstruation remains a very natural biological process, but for some reason, in our society, women are cultured to have what is commonly referred to as period shame.
I mean, just recently, a young girl took her life because she was shamed during her period. Now, on today's episode, my guests are going to be sharing with us their period stories, and we're going to talk about this process. And if you're a woman, and if you're a man, I invite you to please join the conversation.
Let me know what your experience has been when it comes to menstruation. So, we're just literally going to be breaking it down. This is a show that I'm going to warn you right now, it's going to have a lot of TMI, but that's the whole idea. We are trying to break down that stigma around menstruation, which is a very natural process.
I have, with me, guests who will be sharing their stories. Starting off with, on my right, I have Abshira Hussein. She's 29 years old. I also have with me Phina Akinyi, who is 19 years old, and Esther Wangu, who is 20 years old. We are all women, we have that in common, and we all get our period.
And just to try and invite everyone to join this conversation, I'm sure you have a period story. When did your period start? Did anybody talk to you about it? Have you had embarrassing moments with your period? What would you want to tell the world when it comes to your period?
And if you're a man, this conversation is for you, because, as men, you have daughters and you have wives. So, you must understand this most natural of processes called menstruation, or using slang, the period.
So, let me maybe start with you Abshira, because you say that for you, probably, when you got your period as a young woman, it was a bit of a confusing time?
Yeah. Okay, I remember I was in class eight by then, and I was 13 years old. When I got my period, I had to hide it from everyone. I was staying with my mom and my sisters, so it was like I couldn't expose, I couldn't tell anyone.
And how old were you then?
I was 13 years old.
So, 13 years old?
In a house with mom. How many sisters?
I had my two sisters and one brother of mine.
And your sisters were older than you?
Yeah. Yeah, they were older than me.
And, still, you had to hide it.
Still, I felt that.
I don't know. It was so confusing. Then, what I did was, I had to hide it. I don't know why I was hiding it. I felt like I was a shame, I don't know, to get my periods, maybe I was too young. I don't know what was going in my head by then.
And had anyone had the conversation with you prior, like to tell you what a period is?
So that when it comes you don't think like, "Oh my god, I'm sick. Something is happening."?
So, nobody had had that chat with you?
Yeah. Yeah, nobody had that chat with me. I don't know, unfortunately. Then I was like, "What is happening? Where is this blood coming from?" I was confused. I couldn't understand my biology. Nobody ever shared with me, you know? And, "This and this is supposed to happen. This is what you're supposed to do." I was in a place where I was confused a little bit. I think that's why I hide from everyone, yeah.
How did you figure it out? Because, there you are, there's blood, nobody has explained to you what this blood means.
I tried to stop it coming. I put it in my head that I have to stop this blood from wherever it's coming from. Then I should-
It's almost like you're leaking, and you're trying to stop the leak?
Yeah. I try to look for my cotton, they're these Somali cloth that it's so comfortable. It's called dera. Then I started using my former dera. I cut it into pieces. I hide it, I just wear it. Go to school no more. Now, the worst experience that I had with my period is when things started overflowing. I was-
[foreign language 00:04:52]?
[foreign language 00:04:54], yeah. Yeah. I think I have put it in a... I don't know how it happened. So, I'm in class, morning, break time, everybody's looking at me. I started soiling my clothe. I waited, now it's break time. Go back home running, I never came for two or three days.
You stayed at home?
Because you were embarrassed?
Yeah. Then, when we're at home, Somali culture, we usually do the work at home. You are being told the washing the utensils today, it's you who is supposed to do this. Then I was sitting, crossed my legs like this, my mom is like, "What is really happening here?"
And she still hadn't figure it out-
... that you've gotten your period?
No, she didn't. So, she's like, "Come, what is going on?" That's when I was like, "Something." "Oh, sure. Come, come, come." Then that's when she tried to explain to me everything. And then, now, the biggest challenge was, the other challenge was, when we're having the period, as Muslims, we are not supposed to touch the Quran, we are not supposed to pray, and we are not supposed to go to the Duksi, the madrasa. Now, the issue is, I'm told, "Go to madrasa." And I can't go to madrasa. So, what will I do? Just go to my friends-
You just had to be honest?
No, I wasn't going for those three days. What I was doing is going to my friend's place, chat with them. When the time to return-
So, even after you told your mom the first time-
No, before that.
Oh, before that.
That is the other experience that I had. Then when I'm told, "Go to Duksi." I'm like, "Just run." Because I can't-
You can't tell anyone that-
Anyone, even in my-
... it's that time of the month.
Yeah, even my friend, she didn't had her period, I'm the one who had my period before her. I couldn't disclose with her. What I usually used to do is go stay with my friends, chat stories there. Or my aunts who used to stay a little bit far away from us, spend my days there, come back. That's how I used to go to madrasa now. When-
How many periods did you have before you finally told your mom, "You know, my period has started."
No, mine is usually five days. When my mom figured out that I'm having this issue is the fourth day, but for-
Of your first period?
Yeah. But these other three days, I'm supposed to hide it from my mom. So, I was undergoing that confusion. I'm supposed to go to madrasa, I'm supposed to read the Quran, I'm supposed to pray. I used to even pray falsely, which I'm not even allowed to do. I'll just go pray, pretend.
So, you would keep up with the pretense-
For three days-
... until my mom found out.
Let me hear from you, Esther. What was your first period experience like?
Okay. I was in class seven, and so there were some older girls. Now, we're hanging in the toilets and we see people staining the toilets. So, we laugh and laugh. Then my day came. I just went into the toilet. I didn't know what was happening. When I'm coming out, I just look back and see a stain.
And then the other girls come and just look, and go like, "Esther has started her period." Now, first, they just laughed, and all. Then now we started figuring out what to do. We went to the teacher, and then the teacher is like, "You know, you girls have to figure out your periods. You can't come borrowing your pads every time you get a period."
And that's your first period?
Yeah, it's my first period. Now, so I have to go and ask for permission, and I have to go and ask for a sanitary towel, because I can't stay like that. And then-
And usually for most girls, because I'm sure you've all been here, when this happens to you, that's when [foreign language 00:08:24]-
And then you-
... then you tie it-
... around your waist.
Luckily, I didn't stain, it just came. I went home, and then my mom was like, "[foreign language 00:08:35]? Why are you..." Because I was in a day school. And so, she was like, "Why are you here?" Then I was like... I didn't know what to tell her. I'm like, "Mom, you know, you know..." Then, I was just like, "No, I have had my first period." And she was like, "Okay." Now, she gave me money to go and get-
... more pads. Now, going back to school, you have to explain where you were to the boys. The girls have no issue. "Why did you go home?" I'm like, "No, I didn't have a pen. My ink was over."
You could have borrowed ink.
I know. It became awkward. And you see how we were young, we wanted to play around, so you have to wake up and go around the class. And [foreign language 00:09:20] like this is a strange feeling, something is flowing outside, okay, from you. You don't know what's happening. Luckily, I had a good science teacher, and he explained to us what was happening.
I like that. That's powerful. Because the person who finally got through to you was a male teacher.
Who explained it to you.
Yes. I loved science, and he was like, "You know these things..." We used to have fun during... Class is the time you learn about reproduction. And so, I think apart from the toilet staining and the girls, I don't think there is something that has ever happened.
Let me hear from you, Phina. What was your first period like?
Okay. Prior to my first period, I was in a boarding school, 13 years of age, so all my classmates had their periods. And I would see them put on the pads, then I'll be like, "How do you do this?" They would laugh, then now show me what to do. So, during my first period, I was 14 years old form one, in September. I just felt something hot, so I talked to my desk mate. Then she took me to the dorms. Then, I had, my mom just bought me extra pads in case they start while I'm at school. Yeah, so I took them-
So, you'd already had that conversation with mom at home?
Not with mom, but I observed my older sisters, what they would do. I got the knowledge of how I would handle. But now you're taught on the normal, and mine went excess, so I didn't know what to do.
When you had your first period, how many days did your period last?
My first periods were for seven days.
Then I became sick after that. I did door to door, I was like, "Is it normal for people to become sick, or is it now my own adaption to my menses?" Yeah. After that, I just stayed at school and waited to see what will happen in the next period. Yeah.
How was the next period? And when did things start getting complicated?
Okay. The next period came... After September, I stayed October, November, it came in December, while I was at home. For that, I remember I had malaria, yeah. It was, you're sick, then the periods are heavy. I always have heavy flows. Yeah, so, I just talked to my mom. But usually, I just slept, yeah. Because that's more comfortable for me. You are not sitting, or anything.
So, Phina, I understand for you that your period can sometimes last even for 30 days?
When did that start?
It was in form three. It came the first week, I was like, "Normal. My normal is seven days." Then the second week I was like, "Maybe it's just weather." Then, now the third week, I'm just like... Yeah.
You were on your period for over 21 days?
It was for a whole month, in fact. Until I went to my peer counselor, she was a student in our class. It was during night preps, I was like, "You know, I've been having my periods this whole month, and I don't know what to do." I started having joint aches, feeling weak. Yeah. So, she took me to the dorm mistress. There, she was like, "When it went overboard, like after one week, how come you didn't say anything?" I was just-
And I think that's a lesson for anyone who's watching us. That there is what is defined as normal, which is between five to seven days. So, anything that goes beyond, you have to actually raise the alarm and seek medical health.
Yeah. But I did know that. I thought people are different, so, maybe for me it's also different. Yeah. So, that's when I went. She called the hospital, then some medication was prescribed. It was given to me the next day, yeah.
Were you finally diagnosed why it was that your period would go over and beyond the normal days?
Okay. Since I was in school, she just talked to the doctor and explained. When we closed school, I went home, then I told my mom what had happened. Then, now, we went to the hospital, I was told it's just some hormonal imbalance.
In fact, the doctor said she can't give me any medicine because I was not yet 18 years old, and she don't want to make assumptions. She just told me there was some sprouts, bean sprouts, she asked me I could take them. Then, now, let's observe the pattern of my periods.
After I turned 18, that's last year, the same thing is happening. Either I skip, or it comes for long. I went to the hospital, I was given... I was told I have hormonal imbalance, and my mom was like, "You know, you've just changed your environment. So, let's just give it time." Yeah. Till today, we're giving it time. Maybe it's-
And how long has it been? When you say till today, how long has it been now?
Yeah. Okay. If I trace like last year, September is when I was given the medication. Then, now, this year, in January and in June. Yeah.
The same thing occurred?
Okay, in June, I skipped my periods. So, in July, I went to the hospital. Then, now, August and September, they have come normal. Seven days, yeah. So-
But it's something that you're definitely following up with a health practitioner?
Okay. Now, remember, I'm inviting you to join the conversation. Let me know what your experience has been like. As a woman, have you ever felt period shame? And it comes in many waves and forms.
For the young girls, it'll be usually when your period is starting, you can't talk about it to your peers. But to date, even we as grown women, when you're on your period and you want to go and do the necessary in the washroom, you will really struggle about, how do you carry that pad?
I want to challenge you, why can't we, as women, carry a pad like this? The way you carry your mobile phone, why can't we carry pads like that and say, "You know what? I am on my period, and I'm going to do the necessary."? So, on that note, we'll be taking a very quick break. We'll be right back.
Welcome back to the Round Table. Now, our conversation on today's topic continues, menstrual health. Now, I'm just going to break it down to you, guys. The reason that we are having this conversation here on this table is because I want you to help me normalize period talk.
Periods are normal. We have to teach our girls that them having a period is not something that they should be ashamed of. As a mother, as a big sister, as an auntie, if you have a daughter, a niece, talk to them. Let them know that it's very normal. It's nothing for them to be ashamed of.
Because when you hear that a Kenyan girl killed herself because somebody made her feel like having that stain on her dress made her unworthy or not good enough, that is very sad. And that is why I'm Tamima, I'm a woman, I have a period every month. I either use this, a pad. There are some of us who choose to use this, a menstrual cup. There are others who choose to use a tampon.
So, again, joining me on the table, I have women who'll be sharing their stories, period stories. And we're just trying to normalize, because at the end of the day, every woman's experience with her period is different. There are those of us who cramp, there the those of us who don't. There are those of us who have heavy flows, there are those of us who have light flows. But we have to talk about it.
And this is something that doesn't exclude you as men, because you have daughters and you have wives. So, I want to introduce my first guest, who is Jedidah. Jedidah will be our expert of some sort. She has a lot of experience in this department, but above all else, she's a Menstrual Hygiene Advocate. I also have with me, Gladys Musiga. And on this side, I have with me, Maria Anyango.
Again, we are all women, we start from there, and everybody gets their period. And even in the context of talking about getting your period, periods can be complicated. We heard earlier, from Phina, she's having a very complicated time with her period. And there are women who don't get the luxury of even getting a period. So, I want to start with you. Please let me know, what was your first period like?
Well, I had my first period when I was in... What? Class six. I was 12 years old. I lived in an environment full of boys. I grew up with brothers, brothers, brothers. And I was so scared to tell my mom, so I had to use toilet paper. Yeah. I used toilet paper for the first... I'm experiencing something so totally different, blood coming out of my vagina. I think it's not normal at that age-
And nobody had-
... you know?
... had that conversation with you?
Back then, you'd have those guidance and counseling moments, but then you think, "This won't happen to me. Maybe when I get to class eight, or something." Yeah? Then, yeah, they come. I can't tell my mom. I can't tell the househelp. I just figured, let me roll up toilet paper, use it for this period. And then maybe next month I'd have confidence to talk to somebody about it.
But why did you feel like you couldn't tell your mom? Because, for me, that's a big one. And I think even the ladies that I had earlier on, that came up. That, "I felt I couldn't tell my mom." And mothers, listen.
Yeah. I grew up with very strict parents. My parents were lecturers. I mean, it was, "Do your homework. Go to..." You know, the basics. "[foreign language 00:19:39] boys at this age, [foreign language 00:19:40]." Stuff like that. And for me to just start even approaching her and telling her, "I have blood coming out of my vagina," was definitely a no no on my end.
You felt embarrassed?
Yeah, completely. So, it went on. The next period, I think she noticed the stain. Because I woke up to get ready to go to school, and then she saw a patch of blood. And then she was like, "Oh, okay. Then I'll give money to the househelp, she'll buy for you pads. And then by break time, you can get them." Because I was in a day school, and then my school was like five minutes walk from where I lived. Yeah, that happened. And then the next period, I wasn't still able to tell her. The habit, the toilet paper habit went by, went by. I started cutting pieces of clothes, old clothes.
Because toilet paper, it can't do the job.
It soaks, yeah. I started cutting pieces of clothes. And that was the norm. I only came to be more comfortable with her, to telling her, "I need pads," when I was going to form one. So, you can just imagine. Yeah.
And you know, from your lesson... Because the reason to do this show is, literally, to teach. And this is a story for a lot of young girls. And even I remember, when I had my first period, I didn't really tell anybody, but I was smart. I had some money. I went and bought the pads, and I sorted myself. But looking back, I feel like it was easier because I was always in a situation when, once it was clear, "Okay, now this girl is in her period..." And we know, with girls, once the period comes, there's also that other conversation, "Don't play with-
... boys." Because now everyone is like, "[foreign language 00:21:24] a small baby." But what I think helps, in this case... Because, depending on the type of relationship you may have with your daughter, or you may have with that young girl who is under your guardianship in your home, it makes it a lot easier, once a girl is on her period, to just remove that thing of, "Mommy, I'm on my period."
Like you've heard, even to today, as a grown woman, it's an embarrassing topic. Even for you as a mother, it's an embarrassing topic still. So, can you imagine what that young girl is going through? It would help, if us mothers, once you know your child is on her period, even by pads in advance. The same way we do shopping, like rice, unga, always have a packet of pads somewhere. [foreign language 00:22:03], "I need to restock, because somebody is on her-
... period." I feel like it's a smart and very simple way to normalize the whole idea of periods. The same way we buy tissue paper... Actually, tissue is the best example I can use. Because we stock up on tissue people in our homes, why can't we also stock up on pads?
Because once you have a child who is at that age, it is something that now becomes part of their normal. What about for you? What was your experience like?
Mine was just pretty normal. I was young. I was, I think, 12, but I was in class eight, mainly because I skipped some classes. By the time I was in class eight, I think I knew everything about menses. Because I was in a rural school, in Kajiado, Masai girls come to school pretty much late. So, for me, since class one, I had girls who were menstruating.
Actually, what made me very comfortable with periods is that, from time to time, girls used to borrow pads in class. And that's how I was like, "Hmm. Okay." Then we had the talks. Once in a while, people would come and talk to us about periods. So, by the time I was getting my menses, I think it was one afternoon, I went to the toilet, and boom, I had a stain. I knew they are here.
I just went home. I remember going home. I was very excited. I don't know why, but I was very excited. Told my mom, who was equally excited. Then just told me, of course, "[foreign language 00:23:34]." End of story. And, "Don't play with boys."
That accompanies that conversation. And have you had any embarrassing moments with your period?
Not much. I wouldn't say... I can't think of any, but I was just sharing with my friends recently, I... For me, I don't get cramps, the normal cramps just before the period, but my ovulation is very painful. I remember, I think last month, I was traveling. And when I got to the place I was going, I had to take a cab. When I got to the cab, the cab driver... I was in real pain, so the cab driver was like, "Madam, [foreign language 00:24:16]."
For me, I was like, "Why did you think the back?" And then I started the conversation with him, just because, of course, we are ending the period shame. So, I started the conversation with him, that, "Actually, it is not my back, but..." I think my embarrassing thing was the how uncomfortable he was with me just telling him about ovulation. And that you can actually get pain, and why they should be a little bit more comfortable with other people. And with their women, their wife, their sisters, for them to just understand that, at times, it is merry going round.
And I believe I'm having this conversation with both men and women. So, I want to challenge you, as a woman, is your period something that you talk about with your man? Or, as a father, have you had the period conversation with your daughter, [foreign language 00:25:10]? Because I know you have a different experience with that.
Thank you for having me again. My experience, it was pretty normal, because I was in a primary school where we used to have such conversation. And my mom was a teacher, by the way. So, we used to talk about periods, and it was normal. Because I remember when I was in class six, I went home with a pack of pads, and my mum was like, "Hey, it's okay. It's okay. It's okay."
After I think I lost my mom, and then I moved to Mombasa with my auntie, so I used to live with my auntie. I remember, I got my first period, I was 14, class eight. I remember I was like, "Whoa. Wow, I'm finally becoming a woman." And I went to my auntie, I was like, "Aunt, this has happened to me." And then she was like, "Do you know what that is?" I was like, "Yeah, I know what it is."
But I was a bit naïve, because I remember my teacher used to tell me that when you have periods, you need to do a lot of exercise. You need to jump a lot so that you can prevent the cramping. So, I told my auntie, and then she was like, "No, you're not supposed to do that." And then she was like, "Now, you've become a woman." Of course, she gave me my first pad, and it was a lovely experience.
But, of course, my first experience, I used to have bad cramping. It was very bad. I can't even use my left leg, it became numb. But as time goes by, actually, at this point, I don't feel a lot of cramping like before. So, I'm good.
So, I challenge my viewers, do you guys talk about periods with your significant other? Is that a conversation you ever had with a boyfriend? Is it normal, or do they feel uncomfortable?
For me, I'm a menstrual hygiene expert, this is what I do day in, day out. And so, I started an organization from this. I am a Masai girl, you can imagine how it is just difficult to talk about anything sexual. The reason why I started the organization, of course, was why girls were borrowing pads in school.
With time, I just grew, I got so much interest... Now, after campus, and everything, I got so much interest in menstruation and just helping the girls. But then I realized that it is more than more than giving pads. So, yeah, I started the conversations.
And it got to a place that I had done schools, and I am now done with schools. And I had to move the conversation to the parents. I would not say... First, I think my dad was very uncomfortable, because I used to stock all the boxes of pads at home. So, it's like, "Hmm, okay, [foreign language 00:27:44]." You know?
I can imagine, yeah.
I know. He never said anything, but I am very sure that he was very uncomfortable. And then, now, it moved... Okay, I'm not dating. The significant others to me then would be the elders in the community, when I go talk in parents meeting, and everything. It is very difficult for me being a woman, and for me being a young girl to talk to men, especially Masai elders, about menstruation. But I have been able to do that, because-
Because you're doing it from an advocacy-
... point of view.
But, still, I have this conversation with anyone, anywhere. I was just, I think when we were outside there, Maria had pads, and I was telling one of her friends, "Just carry them like that. That's how we are going to start the conversation there.
I'm challenging all the working women. Because I want to ask some in the office. I will confess, and this is something that I had to be very conscious of. Because you're like, okay, you need to go and do the necessary, but you strategize on how to carry that-
... pad. And that's why you're seeing the company is now becoming a bit more creative. Because when you carry something that's colored like this, nobody will know what it is-
What it is, yeah.
... you're carrying. But why do we... Because that is period shame, yes.
I can say, because I do this as a business on the side, and I meet male species, I was like, "Hi, I'm selling pads." They're like, "Whoa. Whoa, whoa." I'm like, "What's wrong with that? You can buy for your wife, you can buy for your daughter. What's wrong with that?" People, like, "So, [foreign language 00:29:09]..." They're like,"[foreign language 00:29:10]?"
"Maybe I bought for my significant other, and then she refused, so I decided to bring for my home." I'm like, "No, you can just buy pads the same way you're buying bread, and take to your wife, and take to your daughter. In fact, try this new pads." People are like, "Oh, maybe that's just a marketing strategy." I'm like, "No, it's not marketing strategy. You need to carry these things to your wife. Because it's normal. There's nothing wrong with that." Yeah.
So, we need to make our men realize that, "Hey, buying pads, it's okay." But I think some men, they're comfortable. Because I've seen men in supermarket, they're calling, like, "[foreign language 00:29:43]? Kotex? Fine." Or, "What? Always?" Anything, and they pick. The conversation is still going on. So, yeah.
And that's the whole idea behind normalizing the period conversation. It's a biological process. And I think, early on, you said something that in our culture, the period is correlated with sex. It's like, it's not talked about. And it's probably because once a girl gets to that age, then you now need to start having the whole reproductive health conversation with her.
But at the same time, as a parent... And this, really, I liked that even you stressed, you went to schools, you talked to the students. But then you realized, yes, I've talked to the kids, but I need the parents to actually support me in this. Because it's the parents who should avail the pads to the girls. Because if you look at the statistics in this country, there are places whereby girls will sell their bodies just to be able to afford pads. Which is very sad.
We are talking about 2019.
In Kenya. A girl somewhere is selling her body because she wants to get money to buy pads. When all it takes is we ourselves, and there's something that has been recurring on the table. Everyone keeps saying, "When people come to our school, they will talk to us." I want to encourage any organization that does that, because you're doing an amazing job. I can actually stand here today and say, I learned how to use a pad because of such an organization. You come to school, you talk to the girl, so keep up the good work. Because, really, we have to normalize periods.
Because I was actually telling her, we need to move from just sensitizing the girls and the boys in school, and also move to their parents. Because, how many parents are actually comfortable talking to their own kids about periods? Or is it just something that they have to talk to them about when they get to that time that they're starting their first menses, or that particular time of the month, on a regular basis, per se?
Yeah. So, I was telling them-
And the thing about your period, you can never guess when your period will start. You could say it's something you're leaving to the schools, but the periods could start at night, in your home. It could start in school. The whole idea is to build a safe environment. So, if it happens in school... And also to upload fellow girls. Because, how many times has it hit you, and you're asking your friend, "Do you have a pad?"
A pad, yeah.
Like, personally, I always have them in my handbag, because you never know. You could have counted your days, but that could be the month that life happens on you, and you're stressed, and you're early. So-
And then something else, I have a friend of mine, she has a baby. She's a baby, and she has it at class one. Then, how do you explain that?
At class one, the baby should be around six, seven years?
Yes. I'm like, "She's..." Okay. And then I'm like, "Oh my God." If you're waiting for the teachers to teach them, so I'm like, "She's in class one, or..." Most of them, she's at home. You're like, "Is she going to be a baby, or is she going to be a woman?" Because, I'm thinking, if she plays with boys, she's going to get pregnant.
I think that's why it's very important to have pre-menarche education. Menarche being the first period. So, it is very important. And that's why now we are really emphasizing of our comprehensive sexuality education in schools.
Yes, in schools. Yeah.
Because then this is where the baby, or rather the girl, the young girl, the kids should be taught that this is what your body does, that puberty is coming, and everything. Why we insist on pre-menarche education is because, for women, we can get pregnant even before seeing the first period, because then the egg is already released. So, it means that if you have any sexual intercourse at that point, that you're going to become pregnant. Very many people think that I must-
Pregnancy is after the period.
Yes, after the period. But you can actually get period before. Funny story, something that you... Funny and sad. I have had stories where mothers have actually called me, telling me to talk to their daughters because they are promiscuous. Then you're like, "How?" That is something serious, so I am willing to go talk to the kids. Then I go talk to the kids, and find out what is wrong.
And they tell me, "But we just started our period." These mothers do not know that the onset of periods is puberty, or something, they are old. They think that... Because, you see, for us Masais, women used to get married very young. You find that a mother was married off before her period. Then, she started having sex, then the period came. So, for her, she knows when you start having sex is when your period comes.
So, it's not a stage?
It's not a stage.
They relate it with an action.
With an action.
That if my daughter gets a period, and if she gets it early... Because there are girls who get it earlier.
Yes, it's there.
Because the average age is 12 or 13 years olds. But if my girl is getting it at 10, 11 years old, so what they believe is that that child is promiscuous?
Yes. That's why education for parents is very key. And that's why we insist that we must get out of the schools and go to the parents. Because, still, it's the same parents who buy the products.
Absolutely. And just, still in the breadth of normalizing periods, because you mentioned something, how would you start that conversation with a six year old? Again, it's normalizing periods. As a mother, as a big sister, when you're in the house, don't hide it.
Explain to them, "This is a pad. A pad is used by women during that time of the month." Let us normalize this conversation as much as possible. As always, let me know what your views and comments are on today's topic. We'll be going on a very quick break. We'll be right back.
Welcome back to the Round Table. Now, our conversation on today's topic continues. We are normalizing the period conversation. Joining me right now is Angela Waweru, who is the founder of Sisterspeak Global. You may have heard about the Heels4Pads Initiative. And I think that's a beautiful initiative that you're doing. So, probably, just let's start off from there. What is Heels4Pads?
So, we are three of us, who, our company is called Sisterspeak Global. And the basis of it is to bring women into the conversation, create safe spaces for them, and do career development events. When we did our first event in April, May was the month for Menstrual Hygiene Day. We wanted to target the women that we don't necessarily meet in our daily basis.
One of the co-founders, Moe, had this idea of, we all have heels, and the one common thing as women is periods. She couldn't give her heels to her cousins, because they don't fit the same size. We came together, we're like, "Okay, what if we all took out the heels that we don't wear in our shoe rack, and then get donations for pads, and distribute to women and girls in need? And whether it's slum areas or rural areas. So, that's how Heels4Pads was formed.
Initially, it was just something that we were going to do once a year, for our company, but it became bigger than us. And, now, we are approaching five months, and we've supported over 2,000 beneficiaries, have managed to go to five counties, and we want to keep on going.
And you're doing an amazing job. I'm just going to kick this off. You have two pairs of heels from me.
Yes, for this initiative. And of course, if you're watching, if you want to reach out to them, and you want to donate a pair of heels... And you know us girls, I mean, how many pairs of shoes can one woman really wear?
Oh, I know.
For me, it's how you-
So, all you're asking for, it's not even money, it's not even time, it's those shoes that you don't wear. Please, reach out to them. And how can people get in touch with you?
You can obviously follow us on the Instagram or Twitter, and just-
Which is the Heels4Pads?
No, no, no, @sisterspeak254, or they can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. What we do with the heels, Mary can give me her pair of heels. I can sell them to you, but instead of you giving me money, you give me an equivalent of four packet of pads, or more, if you wish.
Wow. So, pads are the currency?
Pads are the currency.
And I know that Maria Onyango, you're doing an amazing job when it comes to pads. Because we've seen the conversation on social media, whereby women will complain that, "When I use a certain brand of pad, either I'm going to have an irritation, I'm going to have a reaction." And now we are seeing that, in 2019, there is the... This is called a?
The menstrual cup, exactly. And then now we have tampons, we have pads. And at the same time, we have the reusable pads. And, usually, it comes from a point where certain women will say that, "When I use certain brands of pads, unfortunately, I end up feeling sick, or I end up having infections." So, you've come up with a very nice solution to that.
Yeah, yeah. Actually, our brand is called Shuya Health, and it has anion. That is the catch. Can I-
Yes, you may.
Yeah, that's the catch.
Remember, it's very normal. This is a pad.
Yes, yes, yes, this is the catch. The green strip, this is the catch. As in, any pad that has this green strip, that is the anion bit. So, what is the work of anion? First, people who are having serious cramps, it helps by continual use of this pad. And then it has negative oxygen that it releases. With that, it keeps you fresh. Because we find that, most women, when they're having their periods, they tend to have bad odor. So, it helps in keeping fresh.
This is purely organic?
Yes, this is purely organic. And you can touch, it's 100% cotton.
What is it made from?
This is 100% cotton, you can touch it.
I'm trying to open one, and I'm like, "What's going on?"
Open from here. Here.
See, I'm learning something.
Just pull it off.
Oh, there you go.
This is pure cotton. Because women want like, "Is it cotton?" I'm like, "Yeah." That is the first question they ask. Then, so, it's 100% pure cotton.
I don't think I'm doing it right?
Because yours was facing... Whoa.
It's okay, here. No, here.
Okay, here we go.
Yeah. We have three different types of product. This, you can see it's very long, so this is for heavy. And then that is for light use, or normal. And then we have another one, a blue pack for normal use. Yeah, you can use this. And then, women say, "But this is very thin." I'm like, "Hey, wait, it doesn't have to be thick so-
For it to be efficient.
Exactly. Because it has eight layers, so the absorption rate is very good. In fact, when we wear our pads, actually, you can forget that you're wearing pads. Because they're very comfortable, and the way they're very, and their absorption rate is very good. So, I advise women to try our new pads. It's very good.
I think women should go the organic way. Because, we see our government or the NGOs are giving girls the pads which themselves they cannot even use. So, we tell people, "Give our girls quality things." Because, actually, in our house, even our househelp, we can't ask her to go and buy pads, and yet you sell-
That you wouldn't use them yourself.
Yes, exactly. We give them what you can use. So, I ask people to give our girls quality things. Yeah, they're a bit expensive, but, hey, at the end, it's all about our health. So-
And also we have the menstrual cup, which is another option. I've seen this around. I've seen people doing various interviews on this. And I think the one thing that stands out with the cup is the fact that once you buy it, it's a savings.
Because when it comes to pads, you have to buy either one or two packs every cycle. But once you buy the menstrual cup, it's something that you can have for a certain number of years without having to go back and reuse it.
But Kenyan women... And I'm going to speak just from the heart here. Because, for a lot of Kenyan women, we have such stereotypes behind the tampon and the cup. Because [foreign language 00:41:15]." Yes?
How do I put this inside me? So, probably, Jedidah, you can help us just break down some of those myths, because you've experienced using the cup. And you've said that, "You know what? It's actually quite efficient."
Yes. First, what we should put on the table is that we have two types of products, the reusable ones and the disposable ones.
With the cups?
So, all these are products.
This is disposable-
... and then this is-
... reusable? Okay.
Here, we have the reusable pad. With any product... And that's why she's saying some people would complain, whatever product that you're using, for any product, you must use what is most comfortable with you. I use the cup because I find it comfortable with me. I'll use the tampon. I can use anything, actually.
But, at the end of the day, you must find what is comfortable with you. But now for the ones that we insert inside our bodies is where the catch is. I'll start with the tampon. Tampons come in three different sizes, because of the absorption levels. If you get it wrong, trust me, you're in for toxic shock syndrome.
And that's where now the discomfort and the complications start from?
The complication come. There are some people... And this is for us who think we are bougie, and everything, so we use the tampon. The tampon gives you what we call the TSS, toxic shock syndrome, and it will make you sick. You might think that you're having malaria just by using a tampon. It's because of the different absorption levels of the tampon.
For example, if you use a super on your first day, it means that you do not have enough... The absorption level inside you will be so much, and it will absorb everything, including the normal... what is supposed to be normal inside there. So, you're going to become sick. Then, when it comes... And this is the problem, tampons are quite expensive. Very many people do not buy the three packs. They're the small ones-
You'll pick just one size.
Yeah, you just pick one.
If you buy, you'll buy Super. Like with pads, if you buy a Maxi, you're good for the entire cycle, with a maxi.
So, people do the same for tampons. But you see, if I buy Super for my day one and my last day, it is a problem.
There's a problem, because the flow changes.
The flow changes. That is the one thing that we must learn when we are using tampons. Which day is it, how heavy is your flow, and how you're using it. The second thing is the people who say it's not comfortable. I tell you, for sure, if you don't insert it right, that it is going to be very uncomfortable.
One thing that you must learn is the anatomy of all bodies. You must know where your cervix is. Because, this one, you're putting it towards your cervix. For a normal girl, or a normal woman, the cervix is supposed to face behind. Like, you're inciting it towards your back.
So, not the front as most girls-
Or up, as most girls do it?
People think that we look like this. Like everything goes straight up. No, it does go straight up, it goes towards the back. So, when you open this tampon, the first thing is, you must check the string that is here. You pull it and test if it is okay. Then, with this finger, you insert it.
And just to support that, I want to challenge you, [foreign language 00:44:38]-
[foreign language 00:44:38].
... [foreign language 00:44:38]-
[foreign language 00:44:41] YouTube. [foreign language 00:44:42] topic, go and just search, how to use a tampon. Google is an amazing resource. And I used Google, when it came to this
It's our only Kenyan brand.
And I'll be honest, the first time I saw this as a woman, it reminded me of something in my kitchen. And I was like, "How?"
Like, you know?
But then, when I got educated... And I'm being honest, don't judge me. I'm being honest. And I'm being honest because, you see, the thing is, most women might not make the right choice according to your budget, or what you can afford, or what is efficient, because-
Even your situation, where you're coming from.
You know? Because you have a stereotype. Because I'm sure the same way, if we went somewhere and we were donating pads, everyone would take them. But you go somewhere, you're donating this, you'll find them somewhere, thrown down.
They're skeptical up to sometimes, yeah.
And it's an education thing. So, tell me, what makes these efficient as well?
Okay. Let me just show how to use this, before answering that. For the menstrual cup, it's the same as this tampon, you must insert it until it's comfortable. But again, you must know where the size... First, you must know the level of your cervix.
It's not a one-size-fits-all. Your cervix, depending on where your cervix is, there are some people who have a higher cervix, there are some people who have medium, and some lower. By that, it'll depend with what size of cup you're going to use.
Then, when you look at the cup, it has these small holes. And it's because, when you insert it, then it creates a vacuum and this cup cannot cannot move when it's inside you. The uterine wall is going to hold this, and it's not going to move. There are two ways of putting it in. This cup is made of medical silicone. So, you just-
So, [foreign language 00:46:27]?
No. It's made of medical silicone. You either adjust... [foreign language 00:46:33], or you do this with your finger, you just pull it.
That seems more practice.
Yes. Actually, this is more comfortable, but, yes, you just pull it and insert.
And you insert it.
When you insert, because you're already lubricated well, it is just going to slide in. But, again, you're going to insert it until you feel where it's comfortable, then you release it. When you release it, it's going to pop open.
And because this is a biology class, I'll remind you that we birth babies. So, there's a lot that the woman's body can do. If you want to try this, again, I'm challenging you, go on YouTube, watch a couple of videos. Find out more about it, and give it a try, because... And especially in a country where a lot of women cannot afford to buy pads on a monthly basis, I feel like this would be a very beautiful-
It depends on-
... solution to that stress.
It depends on the area, because we just came from Turkana, to donate pads. And areas like Turkana, or Kitui, or areas where water-
... is the problem, so the challenges around reusable products is sanitation.
And menstrual products and sanitation go hand in hand. So, you could have access to water, but doesn't mean the access to water is clean. And one of the things about menstrual cups and reusable products, or pads, is you need to also have access to clean water.
And there's no point giving someone this if they don't have access to water, or clean, because then now, we go back to the original problem, where they end up using other alternatives because they don't want to get diseases.
There's a lot of, as you said, even a modern woman, even me, myself, I personally, it will take me a long time before I decide I want to use a cup. Because there's a lot of sensitization that needs to be taken.
And it's not just for women, even men. We need to teach men and bring men into the conversation, because we are the giver of life. So, it's as much of a woman's problem as it is a man's problem.
And I know for you, it's interesting, because when you got your first period, it's your dad who actually gave you the talk, and walked you through it. What was that like? Just to challenge the men.
We had already had the conversation in school, and I still didn't understand. I went home, I remember asking my mom, "What's this counting 20? I don't understand." She's like, "Okay, I'll try my best, but I think when it happens is when the practicality of it will make sense." I was 12 years of age, me and my sister have a 10 year age gap, so can't really ask a two year old, "What do I do?"
So, I've gone to the toilet and I've seen the spots and the discharge. I was like, "I remember this. So, today's the day, but I don't know where my mom puts her pads in the house." I'm panicking in the toilet. I'm like, "Do you know what? What's the worst that can happen? I don't know what to do. I don't want to use tissue." I just went to my dad. I said, "My periods have started, I need you to take me to the shops."
He didn't even hesitate, didn't make me feel awkward. Took me, took me to the aisle. At that time, there was one particular brand, so it was just easy. It wasn't much selection of tampons. So, got the pads. I knew how to use it. And so, when my mom came, she was panicking. I said, "No, it's cool. You know, dad's already sorted."
And even now, at my big old age, we can always, if we've got cramps and we can't leave the house, and there's nothing, we can always call our dad and say, "On your way, please buy us pads." For me, I advocate for men to be part of this conversation. Because it's how we end period shame. And it's how we end period stigma, because it is not a problem. It's a normal thing.
It's biology. It's the most natural thing. That's where you came from as a human being. That process, right? But remember, as always, I love hearing from you. So, let me know what your experience has been with the period, because this is the convention I hope to keep having on Real Talk, just to normalize periods.
And, as well, if you want to reach out to any of the ladies that I have here on the table, whether it's to support the Heels4Pads, you can check them out. At the bottom of your screen, the information will be there. If you want to reach out, as well, to Maria, and find out more about her organic pads, you can also check out her information on the bottom of your screen.
As we wind up, very quickly, and we are all women, and I find that in this life, as long as you're living, you never stop learning. And when it comes to your period, if you had some sort of period advice, what would you give? And I want to go first, because I don't anyone to hijack mine.
Mine is, and it's funny we were talking about it earlier, it's, a lot of girls, usually whether it's your first period, or as a woman, you will stain. You will stain, you'll find yourself... Mistakes will happen, because, yes, you can feel that my period is coming, but a lot of the time, it will not make an appointment and say, "I'll be here at this time."
Stains do happen. And when that happens, cold water is a wonderful solution. Do not go buy Jik. Take whatever has been stained, soak it in cold water. Wash it off with cold water, and you'll find that it works wonders. And it's something that most girls actually don't know. Because someone mentioned earlier, and actually it was Gladys. That she buys Jik.
And hope that-
And I'm like, I remember that from home science, in primary school, it's something that we were taught by the teachers. And especially for you girls, when you get to that stage in life, period stains are best washed with cold water. Voila, that's mine.
I think gone are the days when a woman is menstruating, she's dirty. Or she cannot go to the altar, or sit next to others. I think we need to end that. I think my advice is, when you have that stain, just calm down, because it's normal. And just, you can talk to the next person. You can ask. But I advise women to walk with your pads in your bag, just simple. Just be prepared, because you never know when it's going to happen to you.
And all that, being prepared, be your sisters keeper. Because [foreign language 00:52:12].
Exactly, that's what I do. Yeah, you can give Jedidah. Yeah. Yeah.
For me, I think I'm going to talk to people who are coming into this space of the menstrual movement. I just want to say that it is time we end the stigma, because when we talk about a product, we should give girls choices. It does not mean that because a girl is needy, she does not have a choice.
That being said, I also think that hiding or concealing the menstruation, the blood that comes with menstruation, I don't think concealing it effectively is going to end this. So, yes, we can give the girls products, but we need to talk about period stigma.
Absolutely, yeah. What about you, Angela, as we wind up?
I always say this when I meet the girls, period is power. Full stop. So, whether you get it, whether you don't get it, you'll remain powerful. A female president bleeds, and a school students will bleed. So, always, even when it happens when you least expect it, be powerful, be proud about it. Don't be ashamed about it.
Well, there you heard it, so today's conversation, all about normalizing periods, ending period shame in Kenya. Let me know what your views are on today's topic. Thank you so much for staying with us. I value you as a viewer, choosing to stay with us and, of course, just participating.
Again, I'll stress it, if in any way you can assist in your organization, whether it's going to schools, talking to girls, donating pads, do it, because you'll be part of the solution. That's it from me, Tamima. Until next time, this has been Real Talk Round Table, girls.