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“Discussing menstruation remains a taboo”
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“Discussing menstruation remains a taboo”

girls excel

Azinwi Ngum picMenstrual health is not widely discussed in rural areas, writes Azinwi Ngum, 25, a Correspondent from Cameroon, who spoke to Konda Delphine, an advocate working to change that taboo for the sake of girls’ health and education.

Konda Delphine is a Cameroonian advocate for girls and women’s rights. She holds a master’s degree in Governance and development policy and bachelor in Women and Gender studies from the University of Buea. She is the founder and managing director of Girls Excel, created in 2015 as a social enterprise that promotes the education and rights of girls in rural communities by providing access to sanitary pads and appropriate reproductive health education. She also doubles as co-founder of Voice of Women Initiative, is a regional ambassador for Girls Rising and a member of the Africa-Europe youth platform.

Azinwi Ngum: Why menstrual hygiene?

Konda Delphine: Menstrual hygiene management is an age long problem for girls, especially those in rural areas in Cameroon. Unfortunately, people shy away from the topic, thereby magnifying the challenges. Without proper menstrual hygiene kits, adolescent girls in rural communities and refugee camps are pushed into using unhygienic and unsafe alternatives like dirty clothes, rags, papers, grass and mattress as pads during their period, leading to diseases.

All this results in them skipping classes because they do not want to be laughed at by their male counterparts. Inappropriate reproductive education can also lead to unplanned pregnancies, which are all contributing factors to school dropout rates amongst teenage girls in Cameroon. Looking at these challenges, you can see why menstrual hygiene day is very important and why it was necessary for Girls Excel to create a safe platform for girls and other stakeholders in Cameroon to address these issues.

To mark the day, Girls Excel was able to distribute over 250 packets of sanitary towels to girls in Mabeta, a rural fishing area in Limbe Municipality. We also carried out educational activities engaging over 80 girls, teachers, community members and partners to discuss the importance of girls’ education, teenage pregnancy, and menstrual hygiene management. It was equally an opportunity for girls to share their stories and challenges that they are facing at such tender ages.

To tell you the truth, their stories would make you advocate more for social issues like this. You could imagine a teenage girl with school allowance of less than $3 per month and who has to spend more than $1 on sanitary towels. What is left for her to take care of other needs? Which will she prioritise, school or sanitary towels?

A.N: What challenges have you and your team experienced so far?

K.D: As a baby organisation we have encountered many challenges, our greatest being financial and engaging communities to talk about menstrual hygiene, which is a taboo to them. Purchasing disposable sanitary pads for the girls who benefit from our project cost a lot, and so far we have been supported with goodwill donations.

We are currently sourcing funding to train women and girls in rural communities to make their own reusable pads and also on how to wash them; this is to ensure the sustainability of this project.

Without manpower our projects and aspirations become obsolete. At this moment we are dangling with volunteers as our limited budget does not permit us keep staff on a long term.

A.N: What impact do you hope to create with the completion of this project?

K.D: (she smiles) Menstrual hygiene or sexual and reproductive health work has no ending. Girls Excel is less than a year old but we have recorded some progress. Celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day in the South West was phase one of our project. We are planning to hold the next phase in one of the refugee camps in the East region of Cameroon.

We also look forward to kick start the enterprise part of the project which will ensure that we have a steady source of income to run our activities without depending on external funding.

Our team plans to set up mentoring clubs in the different areas that we work to help young girls make informed decisions about their lives. Most importantly, we will like to ensure that the work of Girls Excel affects policy change in Cameroon by working with different government technical services and raising awareness, as well as sharing statistics and data with them about menstrual hygiene in Cameroon.

In the end, we hope that people will break the taboo, and discuss and educate these teenage girls on menstrual health and sexual and reproductive health matters.

A.N: Any take home message you would like give to anyone reading this article?

K.D: I will like to say that menstrual health challenges are real. It is NOT a girl’s thing. We all need to get involved.

Photo credit: Girls Excel

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About me: I am a master’s student in environmental economics, rural development and food processing in the University of Yaounde, and an advocate for women’s and girls’ education in my local community.

I believe in the development of my country with the involvement of women in decision making processes. I aspire to be a rural development consultant and to champion women economic empowerment via agriculture. In my free time I love travelling and cooking, tweeting and blogging about women’s issues.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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