Harare, ZIMBABWE—The night before my first period started, I had a vivid dream about how it would happen and I was afraid. The next day, it happened as in my dream and I realized I had nothing to fear. I felt empowered, liberated and confident about my body.
Yet my experience is not the norm for most adolescent girls – especially those who live with a disability.
The connection between a person’s body and their ability to meet its needs is vital.
Today, 15 per cent of the world’s population is living with some form of disability, according to the World Bank. This means that millions of girls globally must tackle the stigma of living with a disability, whilst also properly managing their periods and being confident enough to have autonomy over their body.
Equipping and empowering girls
Precious Pearls Trust is working with adolescent girls and young women in Zimbabwe to do precisely this: “We seek to help girls realize their potential by equipping and empowering them with information on personal development, menstrual health management and life skills training,” said Leone Nezi-Madzinga, 34, Precious Pearls Trust Director.
As a youth activist, Ms. Nezi-Madzinga recognizes that one of the biggest frustrations that adolescent girls and young women with disabilities have is the lack of accurate information on menstrual health management (MHM). Precious Pearls Trust aims to change this.
“Our MHM programme is code-named ‘Girl Talk’. This is a safe space for girls to discuss, share and support each other, and this culminates into clubs that allow the girls to support each other further in matters pertaining to MHM,” she said.
Every girl who attends the club finds an unprejudiced and nurturing environment in which she can ask questions and share her feelings and her dreams. Through the programme, Precious Pearls Trust has directly assisted more than 2,000 girls, and a further 1,200 indirectly.
“The clubs allow peer-to-peer learning and support to be consistent, thereby empowering the girls and the communities to address the stigma that is associated with MHM,” Ms. Nezi-Madzinga explained. “The organization also distributes sanitary products. This is part of the solution to addressing MHM, but information in regards to proper use, storage or disposal of products is also key.”
In the past year, Precious Pearls Trust has made seven sanitary pad distributions and assisted 224 girls and young women.
African Coalition for Menstrual Health Management
The organization is the co-lead for the Humanitarian Settings Taskforce of the African Coalition for Menstrual Health Management (ACMHM), which is tasked with research, standards setting, partnership building, advocacy and knowledge sharing. This gives Ms. Nezi-Madzinga and her network of girls and young women the opportunity to advocate on issues faced by marginalized girls, women and other people who menstruate, including women living with disability.
The ACMHM was formed following the first African Menstrual Health Management Symposium held jointly in Johannesburg, South Africa by UNFPA and the Department of Women of South Africa. The coalition advocates for greater high-level commitment by governments to provide a holistic approach to managing menstrual health issues across the continent.
“Let’s create inclusive spaces for all girls and provide context-specific MHM information,” Ms. Nezi-Madzinga said.
– Cleopatra Okumu