It is with great sadness that one of the things I’ve heard this week is the story of a young girl in Kenya, who committed suicide after being shamed by a teacher for getting her periods unexpectedly, therefore staining her school uniform. It was her first period too. For most women the first time is always scary no matter how much information you’ve gathered or how prepared you are. For me, I thought I was dying and ended up wearing a pad so huge it felt like a pillow down there. The other horrible thing was that she was shamed in class and in front of everyone and asked to stand outside. I was appalled: first – having a period is not a disease and even if it was – no one has the right to shame anyone: second – the shamer is a woman: third – the shamer is an educator of young impressionable minds.
Female bodies, even in the animal kingdom (other than seahorses), are created to procreate and getting monthly periods for years on end (40 is the average – do the maths) is part of the package.
Leadership requires patience, good communication skills, integrity, compassion, good decision-making skills, being innovative, ability to set a good example, and much more. Teachers are not only leaders but pioneers and role models. I am not a teacher parse, but I know other than teaching one plus one equals two, a teacher has duty to teach life lessons and good morals and set a good example especially to suggestible youngsters.
If this teacher was a good leader, and person, there are a million ways she could have handled this situation without patronising the child, or scaring her, or scarring her, or embarrassing her, or mocking her. As she’s a woman we can assume she’d had periods, and most likely a few accidents – I mean who hasn’t. For her to behave like this must mean she’s lacking in something – take note educators of educators.
They say it’s not good to judge others, but on this occasion we can judge this woman – either she’s evil and devoid of human emotions, or she’s chronically stupid and in need of refresher courses. While majority of women are getting frustrated with stupid adverts about handling periods, (think woman riding a bike carefree because her tampon sits ever so comfortably in the contours of her vagina …. then cringe when you think of the cramps and pains and riding a fucking bicycle…), a girl somewhere is worried about where her next pad would come from, or she’d be shamed if her periods creeped in on me… like they do sometimes.
It is not enough to teach reproductive health in school or in the community, there should be a holistic approach to it especially the psychological aspect. For this girlchild to react like she did can mean she was not mentally prepared for her periods, and the shaming incident added fuel to an already smouldering fire. Parents too have a duty because sometimes we cannot trust that the people we entrust our children with for the better part of the year, have their best interests at heart. We cannot trust that they are well equipped to deal with life situations. Not only is there a possibility they are incapable of dealing with life situations, but they could be suffering from a life situation themselves and everyone else takes a distant second in the problems radar.
When I was growing up, (in the olden days), it was not unheard of for a male teacher to shame a girl because of her periods – it never happened with the female teachers no matter how annoying someone got. Often we laughed about it because in our damn minds it didn’t matter because he was man. The idea of ‘no vagina no opinion’ never occurred to us and besides it was the olden days when many things were taboo. Any psychological damage we may have suffered probably affects some aspect of our lives that we may not be aware of.
There are several versions to the events leading up to the suicide, but the bottom line is that this teacher said something to the child, and she felt desperate enough to take her own life. Having periods is a very personal thing and every woman deals with it differently because we are all unique. Some women still get accidents – you could wear a pillow size pad to bed, tie a leso (sarong) around your waist and still wake up with blood in your hair. How would it feel if someone adds to that stress?
A lot of debate erupted from this about provision of pad etc etc ….. as much as that is good and necessary how about educating educators? It is totally unacceptable that today a teacher can shame a child for having periods!! It was her first and I know she had no idea it was coming. It just did like a thief in the night. It happens to veterans too.
As we campaign and make noise for free and tax-free sanitary products we must campaign for total eradication of stupidity and lack of common sense. We must campaign for total cultural unconditioning of the opinion that periods are a curse from God and therefore evil. We must campaign for menstrual wellness of young impressionable girls. Without periods no one would exist.