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1. Tell us about yourself
My name is Sarah Matindi and I’m a Kenyan working in Uganda. It’s been quite an interesting journey, first with people confusing me as Ugandan. At the same time, having worked in Nairobi, with the hustle and the bustle and the noise and now being in Jinja, I love it, you get to feel the serenity of it. I’m a mother and my greatest joy and accomplishment so far in the year is that my daughter was able to join me in Uganda.
Providing information. That someone did not know, and now they know. As they say, knowledge is power. That’s the best part of my job.
3. What are some of the challenges you experience in your work?
One of the challenges I find in working in Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is the de-linking of MHM from the bigger gender and gender equality conversation. In my opinion, menstruation is a biological process but the experience women go through is informed by the bigger gender conversation. I feel that all interventions should have a gender approach and a gender aspect. Because it’s one thing to give girls pads and build toilets and provide water but if she still thinks she’s unclean, if she lives in a society that prohibits what she can or cannot do during menstruation or just because she’s a woman, this will not change. Therefore the MHM conversation needs to be part of the greater gender and gender equality conversation.
4. What is your role at Irise?
I’m the Menstrual Health Education Program Developer. I develop the menstrual health education curriculum for different audiences. I tailor and develop the content, for example, for girls. Before, there was only one standard curriculum which was tailored mostly for girls and women. My work has been to modify and improve on that curriculum because now we also work with men and boys. At the moment, the menstrual health development team is developing a resource kit for mothers and daughters.
5. How would you define your personal everyday feminism?
Because of working with different organisations and especially working with men and boys, I would say my version of feminism currently focuses on inclusion, not just making it a women’s thing. There are historical injustices against women and girls that definitely need to be addressed but I feel the way forward is inclusion. How do we include everybody in the fight for equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone?
I didn’t realize all the privilege I had growing up. I think my turning point was when I realized not everyone had the experiences and opportunities that I had. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realized that maybe I can or should do something about it. I think it has been very many small steps and nudges in this direction. The person I think who started me on this journey was my father. Looking back now I realize he was a feminist which was not very popular in his generation. He was a generous man and influenced many of my choices to do something about those who were less privileged. I can say that my biggest inspiration was my father, he motivated me to recognize what I have and to give.
7. Why do you think it is important to make clean and safe sanitary products accessible to girls everywhere?
I recently read an article speaking on the amount of time a woman spends menstruating, all her life. It’s such a huge part of who she is and it shapes her life in so many different ways. I think the first part to making menstruation a positive experience and not a hindrance is to provide products that will make that experience, at the very least, comfortable. You can imagine if a woman starts menstruating at 12 years and stops when she’s 50, she may have spent 5 years of her life being uncomfortable, self conscious, ostracized and discriminated. At the bare minimum, she should be comfortable. I mean, it is a natural process, isn’t it? It is a vital sign of a woman’s health. It is not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It is something that means “I’m alive and I’m a woman and thank God for that”. The most important thing is to provide products that will make the whole experience of menstruating more comfortable. To much time is spent on an activity that gets women discriminated, ostracized, so at the bare minimum, let’s make it comfortable.
8. What do you think stakeholders involved in menstrual health management can do to make this possible?
Involvement. Definitely. Of course menstruation is a female experience, but women and girls don’t live in isolation, we live with men, we work with them, they are our brothers, fathers, husbands, children, neighbors. Even if I’m the only one who experiences it, there are other people around me who directly or indirectly are influenced by my actions or whose actions and attitudes directly influence mine. It’s high time that we had that conversation that yes, menstruation happens to females but her experience of it is shaped by other females and males as well. It’s about time we all started talking about menstruation.
High school. I went to a girls only school and I wasn’t the most nor least popular. I grew up in a close knit village where I knew all my neighbours, went to the same school and church together so all my experiences were in that sphere. I hadn’t interacted with anyone who did not grow up in my village. When I went to high school and met all these girls from different backgrounds who did not even speak my language; some of the girls would share what they were going through and that was an eye opener that my world was not a representation of the whole world, that there so many injustices in the world and someone somewhere has to do something about it. I remember one of my friends also came from a village in rural Kenya. To come to school, her mother fought so many battles. I remember her talking about the things her mother went through for her to go to a national school instead of a local school where she would get married as soon as she finished high school - if at all she finished. This was not my reality but it taught me that my world is not the norm.
10. What advice would you give to young girls who have just started their periods and do not understand what is happening to their bodies?
I started my periods in high school, I was looking forward to it because I was the last one in my class to menstruate so it was something that I wanted and was yearning for. I would tell girls it is normal, and that’s a language we reiterate in our menstrual classes. If you start and 8 or 18, experiencing period pain or not, if it’s 2 days or 10 days, it’s normal. Your period is something that will last a long time and contrary to what some people may say, it is not a curse, you are not unclean. It means your body is functioning as it ought to be, it is healthy. There will come a time when the biggest crisis in your life will not be your periods, I can assure you of that; your periods will not be your biggest crisis.
Whatever you are experiencing, if you are uncomfortable or afraid, talk to someone because the culture of silence makes women and girls suffer unnecessarily. Sometimes there could be other complications but because it is not something that is often talked about, there could be a remedy but you are not aware. Talk to someone you trust, someone with more information and authority than you. It’s very good to talk to your age mates and classmates but ideally someone who has more clout to do something about it.