First Lady, Her Excellency Arya Ali on Thursday September 3, 2021 officially launched her groundbreaking Menstrual Hygiene Initiative – which seeks to end period poverty in Guyana – at the Anna Regina Multilateral School in Region two (2).
The ceremony was also attended by Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand; Regional Chairperson, Vilma De Silva; Regional Vice Chairman, Humace Oudit; Regional Education Officer, Nicola Mathews; and a number of girls from several secondary schools in the region.
Prior to her arrival in the Cinderella County, the First Lady provided the Regional Education Department with 1,043 cases of sanitary pads which is equivalent to one year’s supply for the 2,051 secondary school-aged girls in the region.
“After the countrywide launch of this project, not one of the eight hundred million girls missing school globally because of period poverty should be from Guyana,” the First Lady told the attendees.
She said the idea behind this project was birthed out of a conversation with someone who revealed to her that girls, particularly those in the hinterland, were forced to leave school because they could not access or afford sanitary products.
“I did not come from a wealthy family, but my single-parent mother instilled in me the importance of education and now that I am a grown woman, I fully understand and recognise its value. It was impossible, therefore, for me to sit and not use my Office to fix this problem,” Mrs Ali told the small gathering.
While encouraging the girls to speak “openly and apologetically” about their menstrual health, Mrs Ali said she is aware of the stigma associated with this aspect of women’s health.
“But I want to let you know that we must not let society force that upon us. This is about our health and we must be bold to discuss it at any time and in any forum,” she said, adding that women exist, and with their existence comes issues which affect them directly.
“So we must not bury them or pretend that they do not exist to satisfy society and its patriarchal values. Let us have this conversation about our periods and our health when and where we need to. And let us do so unapologetically,” she stressed.
She also used the opportunity to encourage girls to view this project as one which encourages and promotes support for girls and women by other girls and women.
“I want you to therefore recognise that the advancement of women in society also depends heavily on the extent to which we as women support each other – both through tangible and intangible means.
So I am making a request as your First Lady for you to continue to support each other in every way possible. As you continue to support each other, I will be here, as your First Lady, with my arms wide opened, waiting to support you every step of your journey,” Mrs Ali said.
Meanwhile, Education Minister, Priya Manichand during her address highlighted the extent to which access to sanitary pads affected both the attendance and performance of girls in the public school system, by relying on statistics from a study conducted by the Ministry of Education recently.
Aware of how taboo the subject of menstrual health still is in some corners of the country, the Minister implored educators, officials and guardians to encourage and facilitate conversations about women’s health since these have broader implications for society.
“I know how uncomfortable it is for many of you to talk about menstrual hygiene, especially the men. But we want you to be uncomfortable. We want you to know that this is a natural part of life and it is a conversation you must become a part of,” she added.
The Minister ended by commending the First Lady for embarking on such an ambitious project which she said reflects government’s commitment to provide tangible support to the Guyanese people.
The ceremony ended with the distribution of the first sets of sanitary pads by the First Lady and the Education Minister. The Regional Education Department is tasked with making the pads available to all secondary schools in the region for distribution.