Life Saving Education
Mafiya, 22, was born and raised in a small village in Bangladesh, where talking about menstruation or sexual health rights is highly stigmatized. Mafiya was 15 when she got her first period and she remembers not feeling comfortable talking about it with her family, or even her mother. Cultural norms made the topic a taboo where even discussing it with family members feels like a loaded endeavor. Mafiya had little to no knowledge about menstrual hygiene management. She wasn’t aware about the use of sanitary napkins or other menstrual products. Sanitary napkins were not even available in her village since they were expensive to purchase. Young girls and women in Mafiya's village used washable cloths as an alternative.
When Mafiya began to experience health complications of poor menstrual hygiene practice, she couldn’t talk to her mother. She recalls asking her cousin to communicate with her mother on her behalf. “Talking about menstruation with your parents is such a sensitive topic. I desperately needed to visit the doctor but I didn’t know how to begin a conversation with my own mother. I couldn’t think of anyone but my cousin to let my mother know what I was going through.” When her mother found out that Mafiya was in pain, she took her to the hospital, and it was there that they were informed about how the use of unhygienic menstrual products such as reusable cloths had negatively affected Mafiya's sexual reproductive health. That was the moment when Mafiya understood the importance of menstrual hygiene management.
Mafiya moved on and started her undergraduate degree in Dhaka at the age of 18. When she returned to her village in 2020, she found out that young girls were still facing the same problem. The stigma around menstruation still existed in her village. Mafiya was determined to do something to address this issue and help other girls take control over their health. That is when she created her project, ‘Life Saving Education’, which aimed to provide a series of workshops, engaging young girls and their mothers through the means of interactive games to spread awareness and educate them about menstrual hygiene management. Introducing games were important to integrate into the project to make sure that the young girls and mothers felt comfortable to express themselves throughout the session. But awareness alone did not address the issue of resources and access to healthier alternatives to washable cloths, so Mafiya started training young girls on making reusable sanitary napkins.
But getting to the place where she could have these workshops was no easy task. Mafiya notes that it was rather difficult for her to convince the mothers and their daughters to attend the workshops given the stigma around menstruation. She was often criticized by other community members for introducing a project that deals with a topic that is considered to be extremely sensitive and private. But Mafiya was adamant and she continued knocking on doors, trying to engage as many families as she can in her community.
With a mini grant from Peace First, Mafiya was able to train 25 girls on menstrual hygiene management and the production of healthy reusable sanitary pads. Continuous support by Peace First mentors help Mafiya plan the next phase of her project that aims to reach a wider pool of participants in future workshops.
Watch Mafiya talk about her project during our March Instagram Live session for Asia and Oceania here.