"During my first period, only women could see me." – Dilki, 17, Sri Lanka
“When I got my period, I knew I was facing a change,” says Dilki, 17.
“Girls usually spend three to seven days in a secure place, such as a room in their house. During that time, only female members are allowed to see us – no men, family or non-family members are allowed in. Then we celebrate our first steps into womanhood.”
According to Dilki, the astrologer plays a major role when it comes to a girl’s first period. After her horoscope has been read, girls receive their first bath early in the morning – usually from their mother.
In rural Sri Lanka, a washer-woman conducts the rituals of the bathing ceremony. Then there is a big party for the girl, along with her family and friends, where she will receive gifts such as gold or precious jewellery. This is often seen as the biggest celebration in a girl’s life before marriage.
While girls are aware of the rituals surrounding their first period, Dilki says not much information was available on menstrual hygiene.
“It is not a topic we discuss with our mothers or with our friends,” she explains. “We weren’t told how to maintain our personal hygiene during our periods or where we should dispose used sanitary products.”
School wasn’t easy either. “I studied in a mixed school, so we had to be extra careful, especially with boys around,” says Dilki.
“Many of my friends had to leave school early during their period and sometimes they wouldn’t return for days.”
Now, Plan International Sri Lanka has been working with schools to discuss how to maintain menstrual hygiene.
As Dilki explains: “Plan visited my school and we discussed the importance of menstrual hygiene. It was the first time we’d openly spoken about it with our teachers.
“Separate toilets were constructed for boys and girls, providing us with a safe space to clean ourselves, while a brick and cement structure was constructed to dispose of used sanitary napkins.”