By Nicole Namubiru
This helps young girls go through this stage without stigma
Menstruation is one of the main reasons many young girls in Uganda drop out of school. Ministry of Education statistics indicate that one out of ten schoolgirls miss school or drop out completely because of menstrual periods.
The fact that it is a natural occurrence for all women of menstruating age means that, on average, three to four days of such woman’s life are affected by it.
Unfortunately, many young girls from low income families find it hard to buy the sanitary material on the market.
As Bridget, a 17-year old senior four student explains, some resort to other means of protection.
“When I use a piece of cloth while in my periods I get really uncomfortable all day long,” she says, “In the afternoon, while at school it sometimes starts to smell. And because I cannot change it; I have to keep it there all day.”
As many other young girls face the same challenges every month, some opt to stay home to avoid being stigmatised at school if they get their clothes stained or if they feel they smell different.
As a result, out of the 246 school days in a year, such girls may miss 27 days because of their menstruation periods. This means they are left with only 219 days of study. As they sit the same exams as boys in class who are likely to attend school all these days, it means the girls’ grades could be relatively poor.
That is why many researcher’s and girl education advocates are investing in finding cheaper and more comfortable alternatives.
Josephine Pedun, from Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Uganda; an NGO that strives to empower young girls by supporting girl child education, says because disposable sanitary towels on the market are expensive for an average girl, they advise girls to use other alternatives that are hygienic like clean cotton cloth. They also teach them to make re-usable sanitary towels.
She says they also have sessions of sensitisation on the implication of the menstruation period on girls’ education, and they also involve the boys.
“This helps all the pupils to support the young girls as they go through this season without stigmatising them,” she says.
FAWE also sensitises girls on the importance of education.
“We teach them that nothing is worth making the sacrifice to drop out of school,” she says.
Sophia Klumpp, the director of AFRIpads, says since menstruation is a normal female experience, it makes Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) a necessity for every woman of menstruating age.
“In some societies this monthly experience is not a big challenge, while in others it can create an enormous barrier to engaging normal activity and productive spheres of life, whether that is going to school, work, or carrying out domestic responsibilities,” she says, “This ultimately reduces the productivity and potential of women, and unless women and girls are empowered with effective management solutions, this will continue to negatively impact the economic and social development of their country.”
Her AFRIpads Ltd; a Uganda-based company, manufactures and sells reusable cloth menstrual kits. The company’s Deluxe Menstrual Kit is designed to provide effective and hygienic feminine protection for up to one year. They cost shs 12,000, this means that a girl will averagely spend Shs1, 000 on menstrual sanitation every month, instead of Shs3500 or more.
Such cost-effective alternatives are important to providing Menstrual Hygiene Management for young girls. However, involving boys also helps them understand that menstruation is a normal part of being of a woman and nothing to stigmatise their sisters for.