A few years ago, Jeanette Mutuyimana got her first menstruation period. Confused, irritated and with no one to turn to for help, Mutuyimana, a student of Groupe Scolaire Rugando asked for permission and took the rest of the day off. She did not return to school till four days later.
Mutuyimana’s story is not unusual. According to World Bank statistics, at least 20 per cent of schoolgirls in the country, particularly in rural areas, miss school, up to 50 days per year, because they cannot afford buying sanitary pads or due to menstruation related issues.
To address this issue, the Ministry of Education with support from the Ministries of Health and Local government introduced “The Girl’s room” (Icyumba Cy’umukobwa) in schools. The girl’s room offers a safe haven for any girl who has unexpectedly gone into her period or any female with menstruation period related issues. The room is equipped with sanitary pads, towels, pain killers, a bed, water, soap etc. and for the girls who cannot afford to buy sanitary pads, the respective school provides them for the duration of the period; free of charge.
Today, the initiative is credited for reducing the number of girls who drop out of school because of menstruation.
In an interview with The New Times, Lydia Mitali, the Officer in charge of Girl Child Education at the Ministry of Education said the initiative has made a big contribution in improving girls’ performance in school.
“The girls’ room was initiated by the Ministry of Education to minimise girls’ absenteeism and it has indeed made a very big difference. It started off as a pilot project, but when we saw the benefits, the ministry made it mandatory for every school to have a girl’s room,” Mitali says.
Nathan Mugume, the Director of Communication at Rwanda Biomedical Center notes that the initiative not only helps those who can’t afford sanitary pads but it also improves girls’ hygiene in general as they get to freshen up in a well kempt room that is solely dedicated for that purpose.
“Some schools use pit latrines, and these are not health friendly or even convenient for one to change a sanitary pad but with this room, all that is taken care of because hygiene, convenience and privacy are guaranteed,” Mugume says.
He adds that the girls are also helped by a more experienced female who offers advice especially to the ones that are experiencing it for the first time.
Charlotte Hakuzimana is a Senior Five student and the head-girl at Groupe Scolaire Rugando. She says that the initiative to establish a girl’s room at her school has made the usually stressful periods manageable.
“The room has everything that a girl would want. I always used to feel tense whenever my period would be close. Imagine having to worry about exams and then the period but now, I feel more comfortable,”she says
Aline Uwamahoro, a senior two student at Regina Pacis says that the girl’s room has been helpful for female students.
“For those who can’t afford to buy sanitary pads, the pads are given for free. In the past, some girls would fail to go to school because they didn’t know how to handle themselves during this period, but this room doesn’t only serve an immediate solution, you are also advised on what to expect and how to handle it,” she said
Olive Mukakalisa, is in charge of discipline at Regina Pacis Secondary School in Huye district. She says that the Girl’s room has boosted the confidence of female students as most were always worried or frustrated.
“Some girls would resort to tying sweaters around their waist to remedy a possible problem. Others would keep away from class as they were not comfortable with their condition. But with this room, things have really changed,” she says.
She says that previously, those who happened to have their first period while at school always went through a lot of trouble especially when nobody had told them what to expect.
Assumpta Tuyishimire, the in charge of discipline at Groupe Scolaire Rugando echoes a similar view. She says that the girl’s room has improved girls self-confidence.
“In that room, we put everything that a female would need to be comfortable during that time. We want to make it more convenient by making it self-contained so that there is complete privacy,” Tuyishimire says.
Florence Numukobwa; a mother of five says that the initiative is good especially for girls whose mothers cannot afford providing their daughters with sanitary pads every month. “Girls always shy away from the public when they are in those bad days especially when they don’t trust the materials they are using. This affects their confidence and social life, she says.
Yvette Mukabalisa, a mother of three says that the girl’s room is a very thoughtful initiative though schools should endeavour to take caution.
“Teachers or the ones in charge should be so strict because students might take advantage of it to dodge classes bringing about the same problems they are trying to avoid, which is absenteeism.”
For girls, getting a period is a rite of passage. Some girls dread it while others can’t wait but one fact remains; all girls menstruate. The start of menstruation is a major event in a girl’s life. Whatever the reaction, the arrival of a period holds the same meaning for every girl: It’s proof that she’s becoming a woman and it is the society’s duty to help this woman through this process without any frustrations.