Menstrual Hygiene Day will be celebrated around the world in a few days. As a young girl in Madagascar, I never heard of this day. Menstruation was something really embarrassing, something not to be talked about when I was growing up. I was an adult when I first heard that May 28 is a day set aside to celebrate and talk about menstruation.
Despite the secrecy and shush around menstruation, I vividly remember my first period. I was 14 years old and in 5th grade in middle school. Because it was a Wednesday afternoon, we were not in class. With my friends, I was playing when I noticed something wet in my panties. I hurried home to a quiet room to see what it was.
To my surprise, my underwear was full of blood. But I did not feel sick! I had no idea what to do. My heart was pounding, my body was shaking. I was terrified because I did not understand what was happening to me. How can I tell my Mom about this, yet how could I hide it from her either?
With all my strength, I quietly called her and told her that there was blood down there.
She pulled out some old clothes. The two of us cut them up, folded them like handkerchiefs, and put them in my underwear. I did not get an explanation. What she did say was, "Be careful of your behavior, you can get pregnant because there is this bleeding.”
As I grew up, I always hid when I washed my used cloth. It felt dirty and I was embarrassed. I was ashamed every time I had my period and never felt confident, afraid that my friends would find out that I was menstruating.
It was over a decade later, when I was 25 years old, that I finally understood menstruation. I had just been hired and trained to be an educator for Projet Jeune Leader.
My mind was racing when I found out the truth. No young girl deserves to live like I did! Why is she not informed what is happening? Why is she not supported to deal with it? Why is she not empowered with her right to menstruate with confidence and dignity?
I worked for three years as a Projet Jeune Leader educator, at three different schools where I met many young girls who lived the way I did when it came to menstruation. Some of these girls did not come to school when they got their period. Others felt isolated, fearing to mingle with their friends and peers. They were told the same things I was. Be careful. Watch what you do. Do not dare touch boys. Like me, they did not know what that meant. And for some, that was devastating when they became unexpected mothers as children.
During my time as a PJL educator, I worked closely with many young adolescents, shared my knowledge, mentored and supported them, and established myself as a trusted and positive role model. I taught them about their bodies. About everything that would happen during puberty, about their sexual and reproductive lives, so that they could grow up to have better, healthier futures.
I took particular care and joy when teaching lessons on menstruation and menstrual hygiene. I taught all my students to take on their periods with confidence. To feel that all days are good, and that the timing of menstruation should not be an obstacle to living life. I taught this to boys too - how important periods are - because they are brothers and friends, future husbands and fathers, and they can support the women and girls in their lives.
From my life experience, I felt a profound responsibility to change the narrative on periods. As a Projet Jeune Leader educator, I had the platform to reach hundreds of young adolescents, to help them understand and prepare for menstruation. I know that these children will take my place one day, and be our future leaders. They can break the taboo in our country.
Reflecting on this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day, I am happy because there are now 50 PJL educators carrying on this important work in middle schools across the country. They help parents, too, giving them tips and confidence to talk openly with their children about puberty and reproductive health.
I fully believe that girls will no longer have to live through what I did when Projet Jeune Leader works in their communities. That is what I am celebrating this Menstrual Hygiene Day – our work and others’ – to ensure all girls have everything they need to menstruate in health, with confidence, and full of dignity.
Tahiry Anjarasoa was a Projet Jeune Leader Educator from 2015 to 2018. In 2018, she was hired as a Participatory Research Facilitator, and in 2019, promoted to her current position as Monitoring and Evaluation Assistant. You can read more about Projet Jeune Leader’s work on menstrual health in Madagascar on our resource website: https://www.fadimbolana.info/