Projet Jeune Leader celebrated this year's International Women's Day with a little twist... nail polish and menstrual health & hygiene!
Back during the week of March 8th, the team hit up nine different sites - both urban and rural - with our famous mass sensitization event on the topic. We recently standardized the event, producing a 'how-to' guide that outlines the various steps needed to make it a smash success.
With unrestricted funding from Sarah & Mike Dutton and continued support from Amplify Change, we were also able to purchase all the re-usable pedagogy, materials, and equipment needed to carry out the sensitization for years to come. Now, the only re-occurring future cost is the essentials... nail polish! With the guide in place, the team was able to efficiently and effectively carry out the event in numerous different sites during a relatively short amount of time.
Over just four days, 3,887 people (including 710 men and boys) directly participated in the activities! Whether it was getting their nails painted and receiving counseling about menstruation (3,300 people), or reading our girls' puberty book and magazine about menstrual health and hygiene (587 people), the PJL team really got the word out about menstruation.
Debriefing with the team after the four days of events revealed that there were striking similarities in what they encountered across all nine sites.
For one, awareness and knowledge about menstrual health and hygiene was still pretty low among those who participated in the activities. When painting participants' nails, the team generally started by talking about the basics of menstruation - asking what they knew about the subject; for example, where does menstrual blood come from? Out of all the staff, only one said that they had encountered someone (a single person) who knew that it was from the shedding of the uterine lining. Most said the stomach - a common belief. However, a few people also believed that the size of a male partner's penis affected the amount of menstrual blood. This was the first time we had heard this.
Almost as common was participants' belief that women shouldn't bathe or shower during their period. The reason given most often was that cold water can freeze the blood in the "stomach", and it won't come out. Rehearing this from the majority of the participants validated that menstrual health and hygiene education is still a great need.
Furthermore, women (and men!) were generally very confident they knew how to count the days of the menstrual cycle - especially as it related to family planning. However, when the team asked the participant to demonstrate how they counted, they "were literally all wrong, every single one!". An easy mistake, people were counting to the 14th day (regardless of the actual length of THEIR own cycle) starting on the first day of their period. When the team explained that the count must begin at the first day of the last period, the participant (both men and women) would quickly realize that counting days may not actually the best method of family planning. Most then asked the PJL staff for advice about other ways that were more effective.
Finally, the team had stories upon stories of people asking traditionally very sensitive questions and sharing intimate details of their lives. Even though the event attracted crowds of people, in a public space, with boomin' music and advertisements, the staff believed that the simple combination of having their nails painted by an attentive and kind stranger they regarded as an "expert" completely enticed people to share any and all concerns about menstruation, reproductive health, and sexuality. Of course, there can't be enough said about our staff and their professionalism and skill in counseling others.
It does make us wonder, though, if we should still call menstruation a taboo in Madagascar. People were certainly more than willing to talk and learn about it. Perhaps all that's needed are more platforms for doing so. We are proud we've found a creative and fun approach to celebrate menstruation in Madagascar.