My sister’s period came several months before mine, even though we were twins.
Though I was disappointed, and felt ‘left behind’, I had learned growing up that we were distinctly unique and had contrasting experiences in the world. Of course, this occasion was no different. With the onset of her period – she had gained access to a powerful sisterhood sustained by a longstanding tradition at our then primary school.
The year would draw to a close, and the seventh-grade girls would ready themselves for their high school adventures. The school year book would go out, detailing their hopes and dreams for the future, along with some fun facts to remember them by. But they also left a wonderful gift to initiate the next cohort of girls into womanhood – an old school dress. Call it – the sisterhood of the traveling school dresses. An idea inspired by the puberty education advocates from Always who would visit our school every year. They all hung, together, in the school administration block, waiting to form part of another girl’s story.
The girl code and Always pads.
Periods rarely ever announce themselves. And your first period can be an even more awkward surprise. As with anything in life, it helps to be prepared. There’s an old saying in my home language that I always recall – indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili – the surest way to reach your desired destination is to ask those who’ve walked ahead of you. This is where the hand-me-down school dresses came in.
On the day our periods came, we’d immediately let our teachers know. The teachers would write a note, which we would hand over to the school secretary in return for a hand-me-down dress from an old girl. Off would go the blood-stained one, replaced with a crisp, clean lookalike – like the scene when the fairy godmother waved her wand and turned Cinderella into a princess. Only, more subtle. It made for a peaceful, gentle, comforting transition into womanhood. It was a divine swapping of dresses – much like we do secrets, song lyrics, hair tricks, and hugs.
I consider myself really lucky because I didn’t have to fear getting my period. There was a community around me that supported and equipped me with new knowledge. Right from my peers, to the teachers, and the engaging puberty education teams that would visit annually.
If you are anything like me, you lived for those days when you could get a much welcome break from the dull routine of a regular school day to listen to external guests teach you about the dangers of substance abuse, career options, and motivational talks about overcoming adversity to accomplish your dreams. A visit from the Always Puberty Education team was met with the same giddiness. By the time your turn came, you had heard a bit about it from the seventh-grade girls – there was music; there was laughter; and a safe space to demystify the changes happening in your body (and for late bloomers like me, healthy reassurance that my period would come in due time and health advice on what to do if it didn’t.)
We also developed our own girl code – always tell a fellow sista if you see a bloodstain on her school dress and offer her a pad if you have one on hand. I live by this ‘till this day. I always have an extra supply of Always pads in my bag (you can never be too prepared).
And who doesn’t love a good gift bag? The session would always end with an Always gift bag for each girl – complete with a pad supply, cute pens, an accompanying journal, and a dose of confidence!
Growing the sisterhood: Advancing access to safe sanitary pads for African women
Women and girls who use unhygienic options during their period (such as newspapers, leaves, tissues, cloth, and cow dung) not only face serious health issues, but also tend to miss work or school more frequently. Indeed, most women in developing countries, particularly in rural Asia-Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa, do not use adequate female hygiene products and this lack of use negatively affects their confidence, participation in education and employment in society.
Research by the World Bank Group reveals that an average woman living in poverty loses five years of unearned wages over her lifetime due to ineffective menstruation options—this is income that could otherwise be put towards education, security, health care, and food expenses.
It’s therefore impossible to deny the impact the Always brand has had in the lives of many women, including me. It’s a story of keeping young girls thriving, with safe and reliable sanitary pad options. For me, it’s also a brand interwoven with a sweet tale of hand-me-down dresses, along with empowering intergenerational and cross-cultural conversations. My early contact with Always imbued in me a great sense that we can all be part of championing and protect women’s health in our little corners of the world.
As a new Communications Manager for Always in South Africa and Kenya, It is a great privilege for me to open the sisterhood door and invite more women and girls to share wisdom, insights, laughter, and joy. It’s a commitment that we will always fulfill in our innovation, customer care, and ventures we support.