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Mali: Group of young leaders organizes community discussions to destigmatize menstruation

It’s 4 p.m. on Saturday in Sébougou, a municipality six kilometres from Ségou in Mali.  A crowd gathers on the public square, attracting the attention of passers-by. Surrounded by members of his club, Boubacar Sanogo holds a sanitary towel, and explains how to use them during menstruation. 

Mr. Sanogo is a young community leader and coordinator of Club 10. He says: “Because of ignorance, menstruation is considered a secret and shameful subject that should not be discussed in public. But with the support of our partners and young people, we are initiating awareness-raising sessions on this subject to change attitudes and improve hygienic management of menstruation.”

Since 2015, Club 10 has raised community awareness with the support of a Malian NGO that focuses on sexual health and reproductive rights, using community discussions and talks in various places to combat the stigma of menstruation. Mr. Sanogo says: “The mockery, exclusion, and shame associated with menstruation undermine human dignity, and we must work to eliminate them by providing people with the right information.”

He says the club’s goal is to help young girls better manage their periods. He explains: “Young girls need information on the hygienic management of menstruation, so we explain to communities that menstruation is normal for any woman of child-bearing age, and that there is no reason to be ashamed of talking about it.” 

Mr. Sanogo says that menstruation generally starts between 10 and 16 years old, though that age varies from one girl to another. Girls have a monthly cycle lasting between two and seven days, and their periods are often preceded by stomach pain or increased breast sensitivity. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but varies depending on the woman. Mr. Sanogo advises women to wash and change towels regularly during their menstrual period in order to keep clean at all times.

Club 10’s awareness-raising sessions take place on weekends, either in the homes of young male or female leaders, or in public places. The group’s leaders are responsible for organizing and mobilizing young people in their neighbourhoods. The club also organizes educational discussions, home visits, and school visits.

Assétou Traoré is a seventh-grade student in Sébougou who recently started to get her period. Miss Assétou decided to join the club after attending an awareness session. She says: “My mother never explained to me that I would have periods or how to behave. When I got my first period, I had to deal with many misunderstandings. Every month, I had stained clothes at school and felt ashamed. I got an infection because of lack of hygiene.” 

Since Miss Assétou started taking part in the Club 10 discussions, she is using good hygiene and menstrual management practices. She says, “Now I feel clean, and I’m not ashamed to say I have my period, even in public.”

Club 10 is part of a network of youth clubs that raise awareness of sexual and reproductive health in the Ségou area. Each club consists of 50 members, including 25 girls. Mr. Sanogo believes his club is helping change the way menstruation is viewed in the region. More and more young and older people are participating in awareness-raising sessions. 

He concludes: “People’s attitude about menstruation is beginning to change in Ségou. Girls are no longer ashamed to say they menstruate, and they also know how to count the days of their periods and how to protect themselves.”

This resource was produced through the “HÉRÈ – Women’s Well-Being in Mali” initiative, which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health well-being of women and girls and to strengthen the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in Sikasso, Ségou, Mopti, and the district of Bamako in Mali. The project is implemented by the HÉRÈ – MSI Mali Consortium, in partnership with Farm Radio International (RRI) and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) with funding from Global Affairs Canada.

Photo taken by FRI and from a community listening group in Mali.