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How Hiding My Period made the Minister of Menstruation – By Candice Chirwa

Sir, I am feeling sick. I cant do Physical Education today.”;

Maam, I am not feeling too good, please can I go to the sick room?

 

Every single day, girls, women and menstruators (people who don’t identify as women/girls or are intersex/trans) around the world get their period for the first time without the support and guidance about what is happening to their periods. Many of these menstruators see blood and think (just like me when I was 10) that they are dying or seriously ill but are too afraid, embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. A period is a scary thing when you don’t know what it is. And it’s simply because there is a lot of silence that exists around our bodies and this silence causes menstruators to internalize feelings of shame, disgust and embarrassment. I carried this silence for 11 years. I felt on my period that I was the only one who was going through this unique event, and that honestly I was going to die. It was only until Grade 9 (age 15) that I discovered that my period is a biological process of my uterine lining shedding every month due to my ovary not being fertilized. But I still carried that shame. I still hid my sanitary pad in my inner blazer pocket. I still informed my Physical Education coach that I was “sick” when in fact I had intense period cramps. I still slept with a red blanket on my bed covers on school camping trips to avoid being made fun of. I still kept it a secret.

 

There have been multiple ways I have hidden my period to my teachers and friends during my young adolescent years. Something I’ve had to unlearn as a 26 year old woman. Which is strange because what I’ve learnt over the years is that our periods are natural and biological and fundamental to human life. I didn’t realise the major impact keeping my period a secret had on me mentally and emotionally. The gymnastics of ensuring that I had to wear dark clothing in the event that I stained my clothes to avoid embarrassment and ridicule, or the gymnastics of having to go to the sick room during class to take the time to sleep off the period cramps but simply informing my friends that “I am not feeling well.” made me feel alone but mostly afraid that if I ever had to utter  the real reason why I am not feeling okay, that I would be laughed at or be bullied. And what is bizarre is that at a very young age, I was told to make this natural function hidden. Which is something that I still to this day can not understand. And in fact, now that I think about it, this silence was further implied by the fact that tv adverts around our periods had blue blood instead of red blood, and that young girls or women were representing our periods as a fun jolly time, when in fact, it wasn’t that. It’s a painful, crampy and isolating time when a young menstruator doesn’t know who to speak to.

 

My first encounter with my period, I recall coming back from school and feeling intense pain in my tummy. I had thought I had a tummy ache but the more intense it got, the more worried I became. Eventually, my cramps led me to sitting in the bathroom and looking at this blood stain on my underwear at the age of 10, I was terrified, scared, confused and I never had envisioned that 16 years later, I would take the path in  studying about Menstrual Health, changing the disempowering narrative about periods and be affectionally known as the Minister of Menstruation in South Africa. That my passion in life would be to serve communities in eradicating period poverty through changing the disempowering narrative around periods. If I had the opportunity to time travel to my 10 year old self in that life changing moment, I would tell her that everything is okay, and that all that is happening right now is normal. And in the past five years of visiting various schools and organisations and teaching young people about periods, I always am humbled by the fact that I have this opportunity to tell many young girls, women and menstruators to embrace their period.

 

It really is important to understand as a society that Menstrual health is a critical entry point for talking about sexual health more generally and openly. And the young generation of South Africa deserve better. My hope is that many young people in this country are equipped with the right form of education and content that will not have them feel like they’re dying or that they have to hide their periods to their teachers, or anyone in their lives for that matter. My hope is that our periods some day will not be an obstacle to our daily activities.

Period.

Signed,

Your Minister Of Menstruation

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