Friday, October 23, 2009

Menstruation and school attendance in Uganda..

I wonder if the same findings would apply in Nigeria:

More than half of Ugandan girls who enrol in grade one drop out before sitting for their primary school-leaving examinations. The fact that girls are dropping out between age 11 and 13 is being linked to the beginning of the menstruation cycle and its associated challenges.

Research conducted by a non-government organisation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE), reveals that the lack of sanitary pads, coupled with other factors like the absence of water or separate toilet facilities for girls in many schools, is responsible for the drop-out rate.

Despite tax waivers introduced to reduce the cost of sanitary pads, finding money to buy them each month is a challenge for many grown women, never mind pre-teen girls.

A packet of sanitary pads costs the equivalent of $1.50 in Uganda - for the same amount you could get a kilo of sugar for the whole household. Girls whose parents can't afford to give them the money improvise with strips of toilet paper or old cloth. "Sometimes you buy two packets depending on the flow," says Florence Kanyike, national coordinator of FAWE in Uganda. "For some girls the flow is heavy and they will need to change pad in the course of the day."

In their study of challenges to girl child education, FAWE researchers found that taboos and silence associated with menstruation in many communities mean some girls are in any case unable to ask their parents for money to buy pads, and forced to find ways of getting money on their own.

Raising the subject can put unwanted pressures on a young girl. Kanyike says that for some parents, when a girl starts menstruating, it's a sign that she is mature enough for marriage. This is the age at which many girls in rural areas are sent into forced marriages.

Maimuna Kagoya has just started secondary school. She's fortunate that her aunt, Aisha, buys pads for her. In her Muslim family, Maimuna will be assumed to be ripe for marriage once she's known to be menstruating.

Speaking to IPS in the presence of her aunt, Maimuna says many of her friends dropped out of school although she is not sure if it was related to menstruation.

One risky means girls less fortunate than Maimuna turn to to raise the money on their own is through sexual relationships with much older men who can provide the cash; one consequence of this is a large number of unwanted pregnancies, which then force girls to drop out of school.

Dropping out of school affects girls in the long-term by limiting their future earning potential.

FAWE has launched a campaign to de-stigmatise menstruation through "girl education movement" clubs in schools, where girls are taught to treat their periods as a normal occurrence not to be scared of.

The campaign to dispel silence around menstruation and advocate for affordable sanitary pads to be made available in local markets across the country piloted in five districts earlier this year.

The project is dealing with twelve primary schools in each district, conducting workshops with pupils to open up dialogue on the topic of menstruation. The pupils discuss anything from lack of sanitary pads, poor facilities for menstruation at school and in the community, as well as try

to find solutions.

Fatuma Wamala, programme officer at FAWE, says through the workshops they found that poor menstrual hygiene on the part of adolescent girls stem from beliefs, myths and attitudes within the community coupled with poverty.

"Many parents do not allocate any budget to sanitary materials for the girls especially in day schools," says Wamala.

She says FAWE'S advocacy has led to lower prices for sanitary towels on the open market and increased demand for sanitary towels in rural areas, where local shops are beginning to stock them.

It was FAWE's workshops with members of parliament and government officials which led to tax waivers on sanitary pads being announced by the finance minister in the 2006 national budget.

Now the lawmakers want government to go further and buy sanitary pads for female pupils in primary schools. Nabilah Sempala, a woman member of parliament for Kampala Central constituency, says government should include the cost of sanitary pads in the budget of the universal primary education.


kazey 8:09 pm  

Very sad..Perhaps a foundation should start giving out pads. That is one initiative that would make a huge impact.

I would gladly donate to such initiative.

Any Ugandans in the house?

Myne Whitman 10:06 pm  

I'm sure some places in Nigeria with similar attitiudes and SES will have the same issues...

Anya P 12:25 am  

Forget about Menstrual Pads which are disposable, these girl should be given DIVA CUPS & thought the proper way to use them hygienically. Diva cups can last up to ten years, thus; breaking away that dependence on sanitary pads.

And separate toilets are ESSENTIAL! I wonder if anything similar is going on in remote parts of Nigeria.

Akin 1:36 am  

Hello Jeremy,

I am really surprised by this development.

Hardly 3 years ago a ZanaA had partnered with Dr. Musaazi of Makerere University to distribute locally produced and affordable sanitary pads called Makapads.

This development was acknowledged, lauded and showcased, the idea was these local technologies would become commonplace.

To now hear that this has not gained traction in Uganda since is disheartening.

Those ideas need to be looked at again and suitable business models adopted to make this an affordable solution to developing countries.

The moral imperative must be part of what persuades governments to get involved in ensuring girls are not hindered by natural elements puberty from getting ahead in life.




The case reported here of how the Ugandan people reported the menstrual case to the Government and how the Government treated the matter is a thing of joy compared to the Uganda of the Idi-amin Dada`s era.

This is to show that only functional democracy is the only hope for proper development of any state.

Well in Nigeria, the Government of the various states of the Federation are doing their best to attend to the needs of the people.

The only problem with the Nigeria state is the MONSTER called PDP. Until this monster is given the proper treatment and made to understand that the people of every country must be allowed to determine their fate and not a handful of money hungry idiots ganging up to determine the fate of the people using force to suppress any reaction by the dehumanized people of the Country.

Until the people of Nigeria rise to stop the usurping powers of this MONSTER called PDP., the democracy in Nigeria cannot be fine tuned to act like the example we have seen with the Ugandan Government and the Young teens mentrual problem.

Bose,  7:24 am  

I don't know why you wonder if this obtained in Nigeria. I went to a Jakande school in Lagos and many of my friends used old cloth rag during their menstruation. Instead, of using it, I just skipped school during my period. I got my first pad when I was 15! We just couldn't afford it. It was way too expensive. Although, I can now afford it, but I know of relatives in the village who combine leaf and rag together for menstruation. I thought this kind of experience is only unique to me until I started talking to friends when I got to university. I applaud the Ugandans for their effort. Why can't we do the same in Nigeria.

Anonymous,  11:55 am  

Anya, I use DIVA or MOON cups, but you need a place where their is water when you need to empty it out. It is the future, but in a place where water is a problem,this might not be ideal.

nneoma 8:10 am  

@Akin - Yes it is quite unfortunate that such has not gained traction.

The trouble I see with foreign donors (particularly Western tampon/pad/diva cup companies) is that their efforts could undermine cheaper locally produced pads. It's the perfect marketing strategy - develop brand loyalty amongst young **educated** African women, who later will serve as your gainfully-employed customer base.

I have not looked into the study, but I believe it is around the onset of menarche that several young women leave primary school and enter secondary school. Did the study take this into consideration the fact that primary education is free, whereas secondary school is not? Stating the obvious here, but when it comes to choosing between sending the boy to secondary school versus the girl - the choice overwhelmingly goes towards educating the male child for reasons beyond menstruation. It's funny how menstruation prevents girls from going to school, but not from doing anything else.

Pauls 1:26 pm  

Hello All,

I just wanted to inform you about a company that my girlfriend and I have established called Afri-Pads Ltd. We manufacture and distribute (for an extremely low cost) reusable menstrual pads throughout Uganda.

We noticed this problem of menstruation-related absenteeism among schoolgirls when we were volunteering in Uganda last year, and decided to do something about it.

All of our materials to make the product are locally bought in Uganda, and we are currently employing over 20 rural girls who assist with the tailoring of the pads. The girls are paid a more-than-fair wage, equivalent to that of a school teacher in Uganda.

Our overall goal is to upscale our production so that we make upwards of 140,000 pads/year, selling them locally to end-users (Ugandan schoolgirls) at a cost of 3,000 UGX/package. Our packages last approximately one year and therefore cost the girls 12.5 cents/month.

Please check us out at

We also accept donations, which we use to purchase our own pads and distribute them to girls that can't afford even the cost of 3,000 UGX. Please follow this link to make a donation:

Thank you for your time,

Pauls Grinvalds
Co-Director, Afri-Pads Ltd.

nneoma 5:15 am  

Sorry to beat a dead horse...but recently posted on the issue of menstruation and school absenteeism and how the jury is still out on whether there is such a strong correlation.
When I read it, I thought again about this post.

The post highlights a study conducted in Nepal that found that several girls missed school not necessarily about because of lack of pads but because of other associated symptoms, particularly cramping. This problem, I know is not limited to the developing setting (ask just about any female who's experienced painful periods on the regular).

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