Menstrual Dropouts: Period Taboos In Rural Uganda
– BY AMY SERUNYIGO –
Imagine trying to attend school while you have your period, not being able to afford a pad, so instead you improvise by using rags, leaves and dung… – A guest blog by Amy Serunyigo.
Ruth, a student at the Kamengo Primary School in Mpigi District in Uganda, wraps a sweater around her waist during her period to avoid the stares whenever she gets up. Boys once teased her friend Joanitah when she soiled her uniform, saying that she had slaughtered a goat. Joanitah decided never to return to school.
This is what the majority of girls in Uganda face every month. Deprived of the money to afford pads, they’re often left with no choice but to miss school during their period. Uganda has reported the highest dropout rate in East Africa. As many girls lack access to affordable hygienic menstrual products, they’re forced to improvise with rags or leaves. According to research, 28% of the adolescent girls miss a minimum of four school days per cycle, which leads to poor performance in class. Some of them drop out entirely.
Lacking menstrual knowledge
Many girls immediately go home when they get their period, usually not appearing at school the entire week. But even at home, the situation is no different. Girls are pressurised into keeping the rags out of sight from their family members. They hide them in dark places and sometimes wear them before they are dried properly, which increases the risk of infection and hygiene-related illnesses. One out of three girls in Uganda’s Mpigi District knew nothing about menstruation prior to their menarche. Only about 26% of the parents talk to their daughters about periods and general body changes. In most communities, issues like menstruation, puberty and reproductive health are taboo subjects.
Sanitary pads or a bag of maize?
Apart from taboos, another important issue is the cost. In Uganda, the average household makes at most US $300 per month, while sanitary pads cost roughly US $2.25 per girl, the equivalent to a bag of sugar or maize. Due to not having the financial means to purchase sanitary products, girls resort to flunking school. The Uganda for Her Initiative is aiming to keep these girls in school, which in turn will affect the entire community. The core problem is the lack of sanitary towels. Therefore the solution: giving out reusable sanitary pads and menstrual cups.
Students as peer leaders
Apart from distributing pads, the program also provides school girls with information about reproductive health and sexual rights. Students are trained to act as peer leaders, so girls will be better informed and more comfortable when discussing issues like menstruation, puberty and relationships. Currently, the 16 trained female teachers support 38 trained student-educators in 14 schools. Together, they serve 3000 girls. Like Joyce, student at the St Daniel Secondary School in the Mpigi District. When she first got her period, Joyce used rags and toilet paper to keep the blood from staining her dresses. This solution didn’t work though. A Uganda for Her mentor taught her how to make reusable pads that will last her for the next five years. Back to school Joyce!
About the author: Amy Serunyigo is the executive director of the Uganda for Her Initiative. Aiming to promote gender equality and the rights of women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa, she co-founded the initiative in 2015 with her husband Ben. Uganda for Her is a non-profit organisation with the goal of empowering girls in Uganda by keeping them in school. Read more about Uganda for Her on their website. Like this initiative? Visit their GoFundMe page.