African men and boys are often characterized as being insensitive to a woman’s needs. Magazines, newspapers, and charitable organizations frequently focus on rape, child marriage, and physical abuse to reveal how African men mistreat women.
Dignity Period wants to focus on the positive stories we see about men daily. We see men every day who are caring and loving, showing deep respect for their sisters, mothers, and wives.
At Dignity Period, men have been critical in driving programs forward. Without Shewaye Belay, Dignity Period’s field manager in Ethiopia, and Yibrah Berhe, Chair of the Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mekelle University, and many, many others, none of the great work from this organization would be possible.
The boys in girls’ classes help as well. We’ve visited several schools in rural areas outside of Mekelle, Ethiopia, and we talked with some of the boys to see how they view menstruation. This topic is often taboo even for mothers and daughters to discuss. We expected that the boys might be apathetic, embarrassed, or even mean. But all of the boys we interviewed had positive things to say about the time when a girl has her period. Many of them asked if the school could have a place to rest, showers for cleaning, and tea for stomach cramping, just so the girls will feel more comfortable during this time.
Dignity Period isn’t just about supplying girls with pads. Schools now require all students – boys and girls – to read educational booklets that detail why girls menstruate and how they can be supported rather than stigmatized. This educational component has had a great impact on lessening the mystery when a girl shows blood on her clothing.
Older boys in these classes teach younger boys how to react sensitively when they know that a girl is menstruating. Maryam Asene, a student at Adikeyh school outside of Mekelle, even cites this time as being “a gift” and says that anyone who laughs at a girl is also laughing at their mother, an extremely shameful thing to do.
We asked the boys: “What would you do if you see that a girl has unexpectedly started her period?” Their ready answer was energetic: “We would take our shirt or sweater off and let her wear it until she could change her clothes!”
These sensitive souls are the future fathers of Ethiopia. They deserve to be celebrated.
All photos by Joni Kabana.