By Polly Selkirk
This summer I was lucky to have the opportunity to live in Dar es Salaam for 2 months, and work with the NGO Tai Tanzania as a volunteer for aiding in the running of and as a facilitator of the Jali Project. The Jali Project tackles issues of sexual health and menstrual health management and works to remove taboos surrounding such topics that have resulted in girls dropping out of or missing school in Tanzania. Without access to menstrual hygiene products, girls will miss school owing to the embarrassment of, or an inability to manage their period.
Education is an invaluable tool, in particular with regard to the gender inequalities across the board when it comes to access to education differences between boys and girls. Girls education is not only undervalued compared to boys’ in Tanzania, but the stigma surrounding discussion and education of the body’s natural processes, means that both boys and girls are left in the dark regarding this. Without adequate education and a consequential lack of understanding, potentially harmful misinformation is spread amongst communities, and issues are not tackled adequately.
My friend and I were able to raise enough money to buy over 22,000 pads to distribute to girls within the schools, and it was fantastic to realise how much it meant when we were handing out the products. But sanitary wear is something we take for granted as having access to back home in the UK, with little consideration to how fortunate we are, and it was awful having to watch as girls asked for more pads when there weren’t any more to give. To have to deny someone a basic human right is awful, and I learned that education regarding such issues as the impact of menstruation on girl’s education is essential to provoking change. Without encouraging and normalising conversation, that would otherwise be viewed as taboo, you cannot effectively raise awareness and gain momentum for the social change that organisations such as Tai fight for.