By Ayota Erwin
Hello everyone! We continue wishing you better and brighter days for the rest of the year 2020. This month of June, we get inspired by the positive movement of yet another Better Breed involved in the educational growth of young Cameroonians. Our Youth of The Month, Batupe Josephine Shefa is a dynamic lady actively involved in Menstrual Hygiene Awareness with her movement Be Period Positive. Here is what she shared with us.
Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to engage in Menstrual Hygiene Awareness?
I’m Josephine Shefa. I studied Banking in school, worked as a secretary sometime in a petroleum company. After that I went home, I really did not have anything doing. I looked for jobs everywhere, no way. A friend introduced me to volunteering and what we did then was sensitizing girls on menstrual hygiene, HIV, and more. While we were at it, I became so interested in menstrual hygiene education. Then the people I was working with went abroad and I had to start looking for jobs again. I asked myself “why can I not do more?! I have learned so much from these people. Maybe I can form my own team and we start doing our own education campaigns”. That’s how I started with ‘Be Period Positive’. And I also give talks encouraging volunteering.
How did you get going at the start and what were the very first things you did?
I actually started alone. I’ll tell my friends “just organize girls in your quarter, around your house and I’ll come and talk to them”. At that time, I did not even go with anything. If ever I had small money I’d buy for the number of girls that I meet. If I could not buy for that number of girls I’d get maybe a few kinds of stuff then when I go there, while talking to the girls I encourage them to answer questions. Those that are more interactive get it as gifts. Then with time, I started having people coming into a volunteer. Working together, now I have a great team.
Tell us more about the movement ‘Be Period Positive’?!
Be Period Positive took shape in December 2018 and what we do is educate girls on menstrual hygiene management and waste disposal. So many girls don’t know what exactly to do during menstruation because their parents, teachers, brothers, and sisters don’t talk to them about it. Then we educate the society because we want everybody to understand that menstruation is not something that we(women) created for ourselves – it’s natural. You know there’s a lot of taboo around it; religion, culture, and all that. We try to make people understand that they are natural things that happen to our body, we cannot cover them up. Even though we cannot go against people’s religion or culture, at least for those we can touch, we educate them on what they have to do during this period. We also encourage men on menstrual hygiene because imagine. Imagine a girl who lives just with her father. At one point, he will have to help her or educate her about it.
About waste disposal, what is the link between what you do and the environment?
A lot of women don’t know how to go about the waste of this menstrual product. They throw anywhere – sometimes you want to pass near dustbins you see used pads. These things are not good for the eyes; it’s not hygienic for someone to see it like that. We teach them how to deposit it and if they don’t want to throw it outside we teach them how they can remove the plastic and tear it(cotton) to pieces then throw. For those who use reusable menstrual hygiene products, they don’t really have a problem. It is mostly those who use these cotton pads that have the problem of disposal. So, we try to educate them on how to dispose of them so that it does not cause harm to society and the next person.
What has been the major challenge(s) you faced on this journey?!
You know, with such humanitarian activities, most people think you are out for money. Like, you are just out because you want people to contribute money, give you. It comes down to what you want to do and why you’re doing it. Menstruation is a topic people don’t want to talk about. When you go out there it’s usually very difficult to even start talking. When you start talking they shout – “eiy! we don’t want to hear this one”. Sometimes when you go to these quarters and tell mothers that you want to talk to their girls about menstruation they think you want to come and teach them sex. Most of those women will not send their children. When they start seeing people going home with pads that’s when they want to come and collect their own pads. Meanwhile, they were not part of the session.
There are also detractors in our society. When you put it in public that you want to go to schools to talk on menstrual hygiene, people will start dissenting, saying “no you have to go to IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), orphanages. People don’t understand that we actually do our research about where we go to and how we do our work.
What appreciation can you make of the movement so far?
Most times when we go for activities, like the schools, we have more than 100 girls. In 2019 we had the “one girl one pad” project for dormitory schools. We always had more than 300 students. Same when we went to day-schools, where we had about 500 girls. In the quarters it’s a little bit different; we have 30 to 50 girls. Bringing all that and more together I’ll say we’ve worked with almost 2500 girls so far.
How do you finance your activities?!
For now, we don’t really have a particular place where we get funding. Sometimes we do a public announcement and then people try to donate. Someone may call and ask to assist us with our activities. Some people will support the work and want you to do a public mention of it while some will wish to keep their support anonymous.
What is the situation today on Menstrual Hygiene in Cameroon and how are you addressing this concern moving forward?
Lately, we have so many girls pregnant out of wedlock due to the fact that most of them are at home. When we go to these places for activities, we make them know we understand what they are going through and try to make them feel very comfortable talking about menstrual hygiene. Sometimes when you visit these girls and tell them to talk to their parents they will refuse. Some of them will even tell you that I cannot say something like that to my mom – which is very wrong because if a girl child cannot talk to her mom about her period then I don’t know what they will be talking about. So, when we go to quarters I always like mothers to be there so that they can understand what their children need so far as their sexual life is concerned.
In Cameroon, these days we have a lot of teenage mothers here and there because staying at home (out of school) puts girls in a vulnerable situation. And with this situation, we are now witnessing cases of girls that died of abortion and I think they did not really know what to do at a particular moment.
How about reaching out to boys/men?
We believe that on social media it is easier to get the boys. Most of the time when you post on Be Period Positive page we have more boys replying than girls. Boys are more interested to know these things. We have more boys sending direct messages asking questions on how to calculate the menstrual cycle and we encourage this interaction, but I caution girls that they should not keep themselves ignorant when boys are seeking this information. Ultimately it is their body.