Home Institution

Boston College

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

South Africa: Community Health and Social Policy


The aim of this independent study project was to gain an understanding of menstruation as experienced by school aged girls in a quasi-rural village in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa. Though a fact of life for roughly half of the world’s population, menstruation continues to be a taboo topic and has implications related to both traditional Zulu beliefs as well as expectations for females in a largely patriarchal society.

The qualitative research method of body mapping was used with teenage girls in an effort to facilitate both reflection and discussion on their lived experiences with their periods. Supplemental interviews with teachers, nurses, sexual health educators and a traditional Zulu healer were also conducted to gain a well-rounded understanding of the education and expectations in place for young females in the community. The findings were compiled and analyzed using secondary research as well as reflections on the personal experiences of the researcher.

Though a lack of education and sanitary resources were not problems encountered in this study, menstruation was still found to be a topic that had both positive and negative effects on the lives of the individuals. Each story was different, some greatly influenced by restrictive traditional beliefs, others focusing on the need to avoid sexual encounters due to fertility, and others emphasizing a sense of pride and excitement in this symbol of maturation. This study resulted in a safe space for females to express their ideas about a largely hushed topic, as well as offered a new perspective on the continuity of attitudes regarding menstruation across cultural boundaries.


Public Health | Public Health Education and Promotion | Women's Health | Women's Studies