There are 1.1 billion girls today, a powerful constituency for shaping a sustainable world that’s better for everyone. They are brimming with talent and creativity. But their dreams and potential are often thwarted by discrimination, violence and lack of equal opportunities. There are glaring gaps in data and knowledge about the specific needs and challenges that girls face.
According to the research study in 2014 by SNV entitled “Mapping the Menstrual Hygiene Market in Uganda”, At least 84% of these women are from rural areas and majority poor and assumed to be unable to (sufficiently) access and/or afford sanitary materials including sanitary towel. According to a study done by UNICEF in 2013, 1 in 10 school girls in Africa miss school or drop out completely due to lack of access to menstrual materials and other sanitary products.
This critical unavailability of sanitary products is a major barrier to education for girls of school-going age. The inability to effectively manage menstruation contributes to absences of up to 4-5 school days each month, equating to as much as 20% of the academic year intentionally skipped, simply due to menstruation. Eventually many of these girls drop out of school entirely, increasing their risk to the likelihood of early initiation to sex with associated risks of HIV, early pregnancy, teenage pregnancy with its associated maternal health complications, and further limiting their future career and economic opportunities.
Other young women mainly from poor backgrounds suffer from virginal and urinary infections as a result of using unhygienic sanitary materials since they are unable to afford or access proper menstrual products. Many women and girls from such poor backgrounds rely on crude, improvised materials like scraps of old clothing, pieces of foam mattress, toilet paper, leaves, and banana fibers to manage their menstruation – all of which are unhygienic, ineffective, and uncomfortable. Such circumstances have continued to deprived young girls and women of their potential to exercise their right to health, education and dignity.
Most schools lack sanitary facilities that have access to washing facilities including clean water points and soap, changing rooms, disposal facilities to Because of this inconvenience, many girls opt to stay at home during menses and this has implications on their general academic performance and achievement levels in the different grades/classes.(Crofts 2012)
It’s against this background that on the 11th October 2016, Public health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU) with support from Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF), and Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF) commemorated the International of the Girl Child with students of St. Joseph Primary School – Nansana and Kawaala High School – Kawaala during our “Ensonga” School Outreach program. The theme for this year’s theme was “Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement”, this was a call for action for increased investment in collecting and analyzing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data.
Students were sensitized on the correct and consistent use of re-usable pads with support from members of the already formed health sanitation club. The “Ensonga” team had a question and answer sessions where students had an opportunity to ask numerous questions related to menstrual hygiene management.
“I am asking if it is normal to bleed for two days because most girls are said to have menstruation from 3 to 7 days.” - female pupil, St. Joseph’s Primary School
“Why is it that some girls during their menstruation period, they have a bad smell?” 15 year old male, Kawaala High School.
In the afternoon, students participated in the installation of talking Compound messages purposed to provide a supportive and an enabling environment for the adolescent girls to go through their periods with respect and dignity. These messages; “Menstrual Matters are not UNIQUE”, “Menstrual is Modern and Cultural”, “Both Reusable and Disposable pads are Cool”, “Boys and Men, Support the Menstrual Cycle!!” and “Government!! School – Syllabus should have Menstruation Health Education” were placed in strategic places within the compounds where they are easily seen and visible to the entire student community. A total of 10 talking compound messages where installed in both schools.
“I have been having sex with a boy for some time now, will I be able to have my periods again.” female pupil, St. Joseph’s Primary School.
To climax this day, selected adolescent girls received over 80 packets of free re-usable pads from our partners – Afripads. The health sanitation clubs also received 20 MHM Hand Books both in English and “Luganda” version and others were placed in the school library for rest of the students to have access to them.
“Why is that before my periods, I have some fluid coming out of me?”- female student, Kawaala High School.
On the International Day of the Girl Child, we stand with the global community to support girls’ progress everywhere. Let girls be girls!!