|Cidalia de Araujo Soares, right, is comfortable speaking about her experience of her first period, which is uncommon in Timor-Leste. ©UNICEF Timor-Leste/2018/ahelin|
Getting your first period can be an embarrassing, uncomfortable and downright painful experience. And that goes double when you don’t know what’s happening to you. For girls in Timor-Leste, that’s all too often their reality.
“I was really scared, the first time,” says 15-year-old Cidalia de Araujo Soares, a bubbly grade nine student at the local Catholic school in the rural town of Aileu, which sits in the mountainous centre of Timor-Leste. “I went to my mother and asked how to prevent it.”
Cidalia’s mother showed her how to use sanitary pads, and told her she wasn’t allowed to eat cucumber, or play with boys anymore. Cidalia accepted the curious dietary advice, but pressed her mother on why she was no longer able to play with her friends.
“Mom said, when you have your period and get close to boys, a lot of blood will come,” Cidalia recalls.
In predominately Catholic Timor-Leste, information about reproduction can be difficult to find, and families in isolated farming communities have limited opportunities to learn. While periods are seen as normal, and monthly bleeding isn’t culturally taboo, limited facilities mean managing periods can be difficult. If a girl’s period comes at school, she’ll often return home to manage it, missing the rest of the day’s classes.
Now, UNICEF is working with the country’s Ministry of Education to ensure schools are safe, secure and supportive environments for the thousands of girls in Timor-Leste who get periods.