Educating women and girls is vital for the world to achieve higher levels of economic growth and development. As the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said, “The world will never realize 100 percent of its goals if 50 percent of its people cannot realize their full potential. When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all.” Prioritization of women and girls amplifies their voices in society and gives them a seat at the table in leadership, entrepreneurship, and creating change. Over the years, there have been significant efforts toward achieving gender equality in education; however, millions of young girls still fail or struggle to enroll as well as complete school. According to the U.N, in developing countries, 87 percent of girls enroll in primary school, but only 39 percent finish lower secondary. Globally, it is estimated that over 62 million girls are not in school, with a gender disparity in education indicating that 78 percent of girls are dropping out of school compared to 48 percent of boys. The stigma attached to menstruation and poor menstrual hygiene are factors that have largely contributed to school girls’ class absenteeism and dropout. The topic of menstruation in some cultures is still considered a “taboo”, as well as menstruating girls, are considered “contaminated,” “dirty,” and “impure.” In Uganda, nearly a quarter of young girls between the ages of 12 – 18 drop out of school when they start menstruating. A study on Menstrual Management in Uganda by The Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) and IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre showed that per term, a girl pupil might miss up to 8 days of study. In a year having 220 learning days on average, missing 24 learning days translates into 11 percent of the time that the girl pupil misses due to menstrual periods.
This emulates that the stigma attached to menstruation or the inability to afford period products stops girls from going to school, putting them more at risk of entering child marriages, experiencing early pregnancies, pregnancy complications, malnourishment, domestic violence, and, therefore, limiting the extent and ways in which they can participate in the public sphere.
Through our RUMPs for Rural Girls’ Program, Dwona Initiative is creating menstrual hygiene management clubs at their partner schools called Dwona period clubs. Dwona Initiative is currently working with schools from Nwoya District, Wakiso District, Mityana District, Mukono district, Kayunga district, Hoima District, and Kampala city.
In Nwoya District, the school girls’ dropout rate is alarming. In 2020, My Voice Podcast (now Dwona Initiative) championed a campaign called “Re-usable Menstrual Pads (RUMPs) for Rural Girls Initiative” to support rural girls and child mothers with reading materials, menstrual materials, and hygiene information in Ongai Primary School, Alero Sub- County, Nwoya district. This school had recorded that over 50 percent of the girls from Grade 4 to Grade 7 would miss school when they get into their periods and, in the previous year, ten girls had completely dropped out of school because of the stigma attached to menstruation and the lack of materials in school. With the effects of the pandemic in play, this has become worse. A report by Plan UK, the impact of covid19 on girls in crisis indicated that many young girls were sexually exploited by older men to buy sanitary pads which resulted in many child pregnancies. Northern Uganda alone registered over 17,000 child mothers during the country’s lock down which has then posed a big threat to many girls’ school completion and dreams, with the result of further widening the gender disparity in education.
As schools reopen in Uganda after 2 years of closure, Dwona Initiative and its partners will continue to support young girls by removing the barrier of period poverty and stigma to their education. Through our RUMPs for Rural Girls’ Program, we are creating menstrual hygiene management clubs at their partner schools called Dwona period clubs. We are currently working with schools from Nwoya District, Wakiso District, Mityana District, Mukono district, Kayunga district, Hoima District, and Kampala city. Through the club, the girls in the school, as well as those from around the nearby communities, will have access to clean period products, proper menstrual hygiene management information and training, and educational books.
We believe that with this program young girls and child mothers will be able to keep in school free from poverty and stigma, enabling them to lead a life of dignity and have a voice in society.