This blog post is written by Pestalozzi student Ruramai from Zimbabwe.
I come from a society where the norm is to buy dolls for girls and robotics for boys but I choose to buy my nieces and nephews toys of their choice. As an individual I have always been passionate about fighting against gender discrimination. I believe opportunities should be availed to an individual regardless of their gender. Such opinions got endorsed when I got to study in the United Kingdom under the Pestalozzi Scholarship. In my culture menstruation is a taboo subject. Growing up I was taught that menstruation is a dirty and disgusting process that should remain one’s secret. Even telling fellow friends when you were on your cycle was discouraged, let alone males.
When I got to Pestalozzi I was exposed to a whole different world. I met friends who openly spoke about their cycles. Slowly I began to adjust my mindset as I realized discussing such subjects is a good practice. Most girls suffer from a wide range of menstrual-related issues but they cannot get help. They cannot be open about it. A problem shared is a problem solved. Through conversations with my friends I got to know that it was not only in my culture that menstruation was considered so poorly. In fact, from reading my roommate’s blog, I discovered they had it worse in Nepal. Girls would be excluded from social gatherings during their cycles. This got me thinking, “Why is it really a taboo?”
Then in biology class I got to understand that menstruation was but a beautiful and normal biological process. A priceless process, an introduction to womanhood that every girl should be proud of and celebrate. Ever since then I have endeavored to teach every girl I meet to celebrate their womanhood and to teach boys about the whole process. I even started with my guy friends, allowing them to ask freely concerning the subject. You would be surprised at the ridiculous questions I got that actually had me in tears of laughter, but in the end they were better informed.
I believe it isn’t impossible to improve the life of a girl child without including the boy child. If we want to stop men from looking down upon women, then we have to teach boys to respect girls; that’s how it starts. On women’s day celebrations at Pestalozzi, one of the guest speakers spoke about a project she was running in Uganda, making reusable sanitary pads and donating them. I was greatly inspired. It had never occurred to me that there are girls who cannot afford to buy sanitary wear and have to miss school for up to a week every month. The impact on learning alone is devastating, as if other gender inequality issues are not enough. We advocate for equal opportunities for girls and boys and yet we are not addressing some of the main issues that hinder them from reaching their full potential.
I had that moment of “If not me then who?” and suddenly Project1000Pad was born. With the help of Pestalozzi staff Nancy Anderson, I started the Project1000Pad initiative with the aim of making reusable sanitary pads and donating them to the less privileged, but also teaching girls how to make them themselves. We utilize such opportunities to teach both boys and girls about menstruation and how it is not a taboo but a normal process. Production of the first one thousand pads is well underway and we are looking to be done by the end of this year.
A forward footnote: While working on the project, I got kidnapped for three hours. By the grace of God I managed to escape. This incident sparked another idea in me. I thought in Zimbwabwe we are equipping the girl child with education and social skills and all but we are not protecting them. Girls still have to rely on males in their families to escort them safely. In a desire to combat the vulnerability of girls I want to introduce free self-defense lessons as part of the Project1000pad deliveries. In this way we make further steps towards female independence and empowerment.