One Girl's Journey: From Periods to Empowerment

In this Short Story, Cynthia, one of the young women in Malawi who is a part of the Women's Empowerment Project (WEP), shares her thoughts on school, goals, and what it means to be a girl.

Cynthia is 16, and in Form 3 (Junior year). She has 3 siblings and lives with her two parents. Her favorite subject is Biology. When she grows up, she wants to become a nurse because she has a desire to help people. Becoming a nurse will also help her to become independent, so she can help her parents. Working hard in school, avoiding absences, and being serious with your education, is how she plans to achieve her goal.

Cynthia defined school for us as: "School is a place where people go to learn skills. School is important because you learn about how bodies work, and how the world and life outside the village works."

This is Cynthia.

This is Cynthia.

She feels good when at school, because it is better than being at home. There is a lack of sex education and lack of entertainment at home, which leads to compromising situations. Cynthia told us that when kids go to school, they learn about sex and, as a result, it happens later in life because young people are able to focus on themselves and their education.

Simple Things Prevent 100% Attendance

Factors that prevent Cynthia from going to school are a lack of soap, clothing, and other necessities. When she misses school she feels bad, because she's not learning while her peers are learning. If she misses school on Friday, she’ll find her friends on Saturday and study the material so she’ll be caught up by Monday.

Before participating in WEP, she used the traditional cloth method, and attendance was low during her period; she missed lots of days. Now, after joining WEP, her attendance is good, with few absences. WEP provides pads to 165 girls at our partner school. A female teacher distributes the pads, and gives the girls a place to freshen up or change near the school. When she misses school now, it’s not period related: she is either sick, has a headache, or is out for Malaria.

"The biggest thing I learned was that girls have sex when they are bored. That is simply the reality in Malawi."

–Story Time Volunteer

Cynthia saw periods as a time of weakness.

She says, "Periods are a time of sickness, when people are sick, and girls suffer from this disease." During her period, she has stomach pains and feels weak. While wearing a pad she feels better because it doesn’t smell, she can walk anywhere comfortably, and hang out with people she knows while she’s on her period, without being afraid.

But WEP has changed that.

In her personal experience, WEP is a good program, because girls can spend money on notebooks and other supplies instead of pads. Cynthia says that WEP has impacted attendance because it helps girls stay in class, and she wants to stay in class with the other girls.

Traditional and cultural beliefs are not affected by pads. The community sees the traditional way as “lower” and pads have a higher standard and the traditional cloth method is “a thing of the past”.

Cynthia looks forward to becoming a leader.

To Cynthia, being a female means that a girl grows healthy so she can have a child. "I like being a girl because people in the world are from women." She feels she is an important member of the community because there are more males than females, and “men cannot take care of children and orphans properly like women can”. 

Cynthia shows a Story Time volunteer around the village.

Cynthia shows a Story Time volunteer around the village.

Cynthia said that her community knows about Story Time because when girls receive pads, they tell their parents, and the parents tell their friends and neighbors that their daughter got pads form this organization at school. People ask who pays for the pads, and she tells them about Story Time, and how Story Time doesn’t favor anyone; it helps all the girls at Nsondole CDSS.

To learn more about the Women's Empowerment Project, click below.