Visa permitting I will be on my way to Denmark to attend the Global Women Deliver Conference. I am going as a delegate to represent Dignity Dreams, a charity that does exceptional work in underprivileged communities.
Not only to manufacture and distribute reusable sanitary wear (over 20000 packs in the last year) to young girls who cannot afford this luxury, but the program has also given us the opportunity to do a number of other empowering and uplifting interactions with the community.
This program has created jobs, to date 19 women run their own micro businesses manufacturing the towels for Dignity Dreams. My interest lies in the education and information that is gathered when the sanitary packs are distributed.
Here is what I know for sure: Sexual health and sex education in communities is dismal and misinformed at best. It needs a serious makeover. Somebody really, really brave has got to tackle the system and break the stronghold of conservative, fear based education. We have to start teaching real, fact facing and terrifying truth!
Here is what we know so far. Our children are having their first sexual experience at the age of 9! No it is not a misprint, it’s nine. Little girls are having their first period from about 10 or 11, some even earlier. Sex education including sexual health education, as bad as it is, only starts in High School, when it’s too late.
Children have access to information from peers, social media and the internet daily but what they learn is mostly incorrect. I am constantly amazed at how little seemingly educated people know about their bodies especially when it comes to sexual health and let’s face it where can you go for real advise?
Everything to do with sexual health is categorized as pornographic and as much as the powers that be try to censor it, in reality it is only the porn kings that can get around the algorithms. As a result it is only the smutty rubbish that gets through and that is what the children have access to.
Our generation would rather chew off their arm than have to have an open and honest conversation about sexual health with their partner, much less their children.
If you enjoy sex, you are sexually deviant. If you pole dance, you are a stripper. If you use a sex toy, you are a lonely spinster who cannot get a real man! I’m so sick of it I can scream! I’m so tired of the fear when sex is mentioned and I can never really get a straight answer when I ask ‘What are you afraid of?’
I know that it is fear of the unknown, the fear that we will make it worse that children don’t need to know these things. Well maybe they don’t but the reality is that they are hearing rubbish from their mates and their siblings. If you are not telling them the truth, if you are not normalising sex they are being told lies and the myth that sex is dirty and sinful is perpetuated. The same goes for the myths about menstruation.
At Dignity Dreams, during the handovers, we hear the most horrific stories, which had sexual health been normalised, would never have happened.
Menstruation is starting earlier and earlier. There are many environmental reasons for this. The main culprit is the oestrogen in the food we eat. Education has not kept up. We should be having the discussions about sexual health and menstruation before it happens. This means primary school.
More often than not her first period is unexpected, sometimes painful and bloody. Imagine blood coming out of the least spoken about, and most shameful, part of your body? Imagine you have no idea what is going on? Can you begin to imagine how traumatic that is?
Now imagine that you know what is happening, you’ve been waiting for it. You know that this is a perfectly normal bodily function, like urinating or blowing your nose. Imagine being prepared for it and having sanitary wear available when it does? Imagine knowing how to make yourself comfortable and how to deal with cramps?
Just imagine if boys and girls alike understood that menstruation is not dirty, impure or a curse. We have heard some fantastic myths about menstruation. I wish I’d known them in the early days as I would have taken full advantage. There is a myth that is a woman who is having her period, touches food or goes into a kitchen, the food will be spoiled and those eating it will get ill. Imagine if I believed this – may family would starve!
The myth I find most offensive is that menstruation makes me impure, so I cannot be touched, cannot pray, cannot enter a place of worship or touch a sacred object. Really? The blood and tissue that gives life and feeds a foetus is impure? Not in my world!
In my world, menstruation is a normal bodily function. It is a celebration of womanhood.
There is a global debate about the taxation of sanitary products. They are considered as luxury items and not essential. Are you kidding me? What would have me rather use for something I have no control over?
Have you seen how much sanitary products cost? Now imagine you have to choose between buying food for your family or sanitary towels for your daughter? I know which one I would choose and that’s where Dignity Dreams comes in.
A pack of Dignity Dreams sanitary towels costs R140. It includes 6 re-useable sanitary towels. They are SABS absorbency approved and we know that they remain absorbent for between 3 and 5 years. Each set comes with panties, zip lock bags, a drawstring bag and care instructions.
It beats using socks, leaves and towels by a mile. They even beat normal disposable sanitary towels because let’s face it you can only use it once. What is that little girl going to use next month?
If you’d like more information about sexual health or how to sponsor a pack please email me – Sharon@lolamontez.co.za
Article first appeared in SATURDAY STAR