Menstruation is still taboo in many countries around the world, where it’s often considered embarrassing or shameful. In many societies it is discussed in muted tones. Unfortunately, the ripple effect is that young girls across the country are forced to drop out of school because they cannot deal with it
“I feel confident and at ease, I walk with my head high because I am not worried, I am sure that behind is clean,” says Shams
Adolescence in young girls is a transitional phase of their lives, and something worth celebrating. This stage is marked by physiological changes such as increased body size and the ability to reproduce as well as psychological changes, including the ability to think critically and sensitivity to the ‘new’ body image.
However, for most girls in the rural areas of Uganda, menstrual cycle brings complications and this stage often brings challenges that push girls out of school and social activities, making the celebration short-lived.
Sanitary wear is generally unavailable in the rural areas, and when it is available, it is costly and, therefore, out of the reach of the majority living in poor areas. It is unimaginable to realize that in this day and age of development there are still young women who have no access to pads. The alternatives are old pieces of cloth, leaves, and pieces of newspaper, tissue and maize cobs. It is a depressing and unimaginable reality that some African girls face each month.
“During my period, I mostly use old rags and sometimes toilet paper, but I am most comfortable when I just do not go to school,” 13 year old Hawa Afoyo, of Kasese Muslim Primary School says.
Similarly, Sarah Muhindo, says at the onset of her period, she carries a sweater and wraps it around her waist to avoid the stares whenever she gets up. She says boys once teased her friend when she soiled her uniform, taunting her that she had slaughtered a hen.
“I cannot concentrate in class when I am in my periods because I keep wondering if my dress is soiled,” says Biira Esther.
IDF implementing partner, the National Youth Organisation (NAYODE) in Kasese district has embarked on educating young girls through sensitization in schools and on how to manage during the menstrual cycle period and the innovation of the reusable sanitary towels.
Umuhoza Shamsa a 14 year old girl and a P7 student in Kasese Muslim Primary School says “We have learnt many things, for example how to wash the reusable sanitary pads. I have never seen these pads since I was born. I always used always pads, but they are too expensive. I have always asked for pads and my parents could complain of lack of funds,
I know my rights, my parents must provide for all these things until I am eighteen, sometimes I could see the pain in my mother’s eyes. Now I’ve seen these new pads and I’ll be washing them according to the instruction you gave us. My parents are now relieved of the burden of buying always pads. Thank you very much NAYODE and PAGISA team for selecting our school and for supporting adolescent girls.
“We appreciate the reusable sanitary pads a lot. The girls do not need to be ashamed of their menstrual periods anymore. We did not know anything about reusable sanitary pads, now we have seen the advantages. Our girls will always come to school when they are fresh and don’t fear the blood come out,” said Achen Celinah, a matron of Kasese Muslim Primary school.
Research by Build Africa in 2013 revealed the alarming statistics and impact this issue has on girl child retention in schools and completion. On average, the report revealed that of the 80 days allocated to a school term, 29.7% of the adolescent girls said they miss a minimum of four days per cycle. This also includes examination days, important class presentations and the introduction of new topics. Eventually many of these girls drop out of school entirely, increasing their likelihood of teen pregnancy health complications and early marriage, and further limiting their future career and economic opportunities.
NAYODE’s intervention has played a role in trying to avert this situation in Kasese district with 295 girls reached with the awareness message. The Executive Director, NAYODE, Yasin Tumwine explained the difference the organisation is making among the young school girls. “When you talk to a girl who has gone through our awareness and sensitization programs, you clearly see a beaming face compared to one who has not, you immediately notice the face changing like she has either been offended, is shy, biting nails and looking down. Accessibility has been made easy. The pads are also delivered in the schools through a network of community good life promoters and Human Rights Defenders. These have since created a community support network that makes the young girls feel secure. The girls have also gained a skill, they can make the pads for themselves.
“You can now see the confidence in the girls, it is very evident. When her menses start, she is not afraid anymore,” added. Tumwine.