45 years later, Catarina is empowered to speak up on menstruation

Catarina Luis, 45 years old, has been a resident of the community of Noele/Namapa for 31 years. She lives with her husband and has seven children, three boys and four girls.
05. April 2022

Catarina Luis tells how difficult her life was in the time without the private bathroom for menstrual hygiene management: ‘Before the construction of the private bathroom my life was a pain. I used the same toilet with my husband and children. I felt very uncomfortable, my son even asked me why there was blood in the toilet, or if someone was sick. I did not know what to say to him because I felt embarrassed. People would come into the toilet and step on those drops of blood that were on the floor after I had washed myself during my periods. Sometimes I would wash my body in the river, far away from other people, or in the middle of the bush, in a hidden place with a lot of grass. I often felt uncomfortable because of the danger of snakes. After washing my intimate clothes - Nacapa: a small cloth that women use during menstruation instead of a disposable pad - I tied the wet cloth around my waist to dry, but this caused a bad smell and itching. I assume that the cough during these times was linked to this, and people would ask me what was going on. I just pretended to be sick.

When I passed a group of women, I would get an unpleasant smell and the other women already knew that I had menstruation because they also went through the same suffering. At night I had to wait until the children were asleep and hide behind the house to do my hygiene. Sometimes I didn't clean myself well because of the darkness. To hang out my underwear (panties and cloth pads), I had to go to the river to find a place to put them to dry. It was a difficult process, and I was sad every time when my period appeared.

The day I overcame the fear

One day we participated in an awareness campaign by the technicians of AMASI, where I got to know that a private bathroom could provide relief. My entire community was convinced and now you can find private bathrooms in all homes. The suffering is over! My husband helped us to build this bathroom for me and my daughter. He really liked this initiative because it does not cost anything to do, we have all the material for construction here in our communities. He had no difficulty building it. I explained to my daughter who already has her period that she should do her hygiene in the bathroom safely and at ease. Today my hygiene is good, I clean myself well without shame and without fear. The bad smell is gone. I no longer tie the wet pad around my waist, but let it dry in the sun in the bathroom and after it dries, I remove it to keep it inside.

I explain to other women who do not yet have a private bathroom the importance of menstrual hygiene management and what can be done about it. I thank the Kalai Project because I was lost without knowing what to do. I feel that you have saved us women.