Across time and cultures, menstruation means that a young girl is becoming a woman. For an older generation of women, attitudes towards menstruation were vastly different to what we understand now. Women have many more options for dealing with periods today but the stigma still persists. The Daily Vox spoke to Eunice Zondi (75) a retired nurse from KwaDlangezwa in northern KwaZulu-Natal about her recollections of puberty.
We grew up in the township but emakhaya [in the former homelands], they used to tell the children about menstruation. On a girl’s first day, they have to sit on the ground and do umhlonyane [a rite of passage into womanhood].
I don’t remember my mother talking to me specifically about it. I remember her telling me once you’ve menstruated and have sex with a boy, you’ll get pregnant. I think she was afraid for me.
We didn’t have pads at that time. We used rags. My older sisters used to wash them at night, never during the day. I didn’t even know where they hung them up to dry. I didn’t know what they were doing. I just used to think they’ve made a mess. I’m not sure why there was so much secrecy but those rags, it was something dirty that they had to wash. They had to hide it. We grew up in a bad time.
Fortunately for me, by the time I started menstruating when I was 14, I was working kwamlungu [for a white person]. Missus would send me to buy her pads and the belt so I knew I must have a belt and sanitary pads.
They didn’t see me use pads, but there were some at home in the drawer so they did see them. We never spoke about it. They eventually bought pads but I’m not sure if they saw it from the white people they were working for or from me.
I remember when we had blotted, that little blood stain on our clothes. We would feel ashamed and go home or walk behind each other to hide and go to the bathroom together. It wasn’t a good experience. Our sisters would say that when you’re menstruating you must take care of yourself. It’s a private thing, menstruation.
I’m sure the youth is better off. People talk about it now. Children are learning at school about their bodies and menstruation. We were never taught these things.