For many adolescent girls in rural communities in Cameroon, access to proper sanitary pads and menstrual hygiene education is still far-fetched with many families unable to provide proper menstrual hygiene kits for their teenage daughters. This has largely been attributed to poverty and the high prevalence of cultural taboos associated with menstruation. Alternatively, girls in some of the most vulnerable communities in rural Cameroon will resort to using unsafe materials like dirty clothes and papers during menstruation putting them at risk of health hazards. Faced with such seemingly insurmountable challenge, many girls completely boycott school during menstruation and UNESCO estimates that this is 1 in 10 African girls.
Thanks to Girls Excel, a social impact organization created by young Cameroonians passionate about promoting quality education for rural girls in Cameroon, the issue of menstrual hygiene management is now being addressed in rural communities in Cameroon.
‘In 2015, my colleagues and I were having an informal discussion about some of the challenges that girls face in rural communities and we noticed that from our extensive field experience, lack of access to sanitary pads was a key problem but because menstruation is a taboo topic in Cameroon, many girls go through this experience ignorant, feeling cursed and without help. We wanted to create a platform where girls can learn about their bodies and embrace it without any fear’ says Mamuwa Ruth Meoto, Project Officer, Girls Excel.
In September 2015, Girls Excel was legally registered as an association with the vision of creating a world in which all girls can be safe, healthy and educated in a society that recognizes respects and values girl’s education as a human right.
Our most recent sensitization campaign took place on the 19th of August 2016 in Tole village, South West Region of Cameroon. It was a sensitization and distribution program to educate adolescent girls in this community on menstrual hygiene management and its impact on education, health and socio-economic development prior to the start of the 2016/2017 academic year. The event was organized in partnership with FEMPads, Reach Out Cameroon (REO) and Build Our Women (BOW) thanks to financial contribution from different individuals and organizations.
During this event, about 50 girls between the ages and young women of 09-20 years old benefitted from; Sanitary kits containing (reusable and disposable sanitary pads), Pants (knickers), #Mebracelets which helps girls to understand their menstrual cycle better and Comprehensive Menstrual Hygiene Education.
‘In the last one year, we have organized 4 events in different communities in the North and South West Regions respectively. These events have been beneficial to the communities, schools as well as our team. Menstrual hygiene education is very personal and our work affords us the opportunity to learn about the daily experiences of adolescent girls in rural communities especially. It also helps to highlight the importance of our work and its interconnectedness to other SDGs in terms of education, health and wellbeing, water, hygiene and sanitation and above all poverty. That is why Girls Excel aims to train rural women and girls in making their own reusable sanitary pads which are affordable, eco-friendly and a source of income generation for rural women’ says Konda Delphine, Managing Director, Girls Excel
Despite the progress recorded, the Girls Excel team has to overcome different challenges in their quest to support adolescent girls. Challenges such as financial constraints, poor road network, security threats (as they work in really remote areas) make it challenging for the organization to support more girls.