Early pregnancies are fairly common in rural areas of Zambia and another reason why girls drop out of school. Their young bodies are not ready for childbirth and this, coupled with poor health, untrained village midwives or health clinics situated far from many rural villages means that girls' health and lives are put at risk. Regardless of this, in poor families where feeding too many kids is a problem, girls are encouraged to marry young, often as early as 14 years old. Girls still in primary level education, often as young 12 or 14, are regularly reported pregnant or already have a child. Girls who get pregnant whilst still at school are allowed to attend lessons until 8 weeks prior to their due date and, once they have given birth, are allowed to return to school.
There are many modern urban definitions of 'dry sex' but we refer to the practice of intercourse without any natural or artificial lubricant, often after a woman has used drying herbs. The traditional practice of 'dry sex', demanded by some rural Zambian men, contributes to a higher risk of contracting HIV/Aids.
When a girl has her first period certain rituals are performed and she is taught what to do during her period and traditional ways of how to act now she is no longer a child. Girls living in rural areas of Zambia have little or no access to, or cannot afford modern commercially-produced disposable sanitary pads and are taught by older women what to use instead.
Girls traditionally tie a piece of cloth (torn from a ‘chitenge’ - a 2 m length of fabric like a sarong) around their waist and put another folded piece of the fabric from front to back, tucking it into the waistband. This can be bulky and is often dislodged so, to save embarrassment and ridicule, girls will stay at home, particularly from school during their menses. This means that they miss lessons for around 1 week in every four - that's 25% of lessons or, during their four years of secondary education, a whole year of schooling. For those who do attend school insecurity makes them reluctant to stand up in class to answer questions and they live in dread of being asked to come to the front of the class. Many of the male teachers we spoke to were unaware of the girls’ predicament. Have a look at our menstrual hygiene management project to see one possible sustainable solution.
|Menstrual Hygiene Management|