Keeping Girls in School

“To Educate Girls is to Reduce Poverty” – Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary General)

In the developing world, for every girl who successfully completes secondary education there is an increase in childhood immunization, reduced incidence of malnutrition, a lower rate of STD and HIV transmission, unwanted pregnancies are reduced and infant mortality lowers. If you educate a girl you educate a nation.

But there is an obstacle to educating girls and every girl experiences it as she goes through puberty.  It is the monthly menstrual period.  Monthly menstruation means that millions of girls in developing countries skip up to 20 per cent of the school year simply because they cannot afford to buy mainstream sanitary products.  This is something unheard of in our developed world.

Unable to afford sanitary products, many schoolgirls have no choice but to rely on crude, improvised materials to absorb their menstrual flow.  Options range from using rags and scraps of old clothing, to wads of toilet paper or newspaper.  In more severe cases, girls resort to using leaves or mud.  It should come as no surprise that these materials are neither comfortable nor absorbent.  Faced with frequent, embarrassing leaks and a susceptibility to recurrent infections, this situation reduces most girls' experience of menstruation to a monthly dose of shame and indignity. So rather than risk the embarrassment of a leak in front of her peers, or the discomfort of sitting in class all day with newspaper between her legs, many girls choose to stay at home.

In Uganda, of the 80 days allocated for a school term, research shows that girls who cannot afford sanitary pads will miss school for about 20 days.  29.7% of Ugandan girls in primary schools alone will skip school (Ugandan Ministry of Education, 2012).  This figure does not account for those in lower secondary school.

When a girl takes time off school it triggers a domino effect.  Missing lessons means that she will fall behind in the curriculum, putting her at an immediate disadvantage to her male peers.  This absence leads to generations of girls in the developing world with fewer qualifications, limited access to job opportunities and less time spent building social networks, confidence and life skills.  Because she is not at school, she starts to take on other household tasks at home or in the local community which may put her in dangerous situations.

Here at Operation Uganda we are committed to keeping Ugandan girls in school and changing this situation for hundreds of girls in our sponsorship programs.  Using a Ugandan made product called AFRIpads (www.afripads.com) we are supplying girls with a washable reusable sanitary product that is comfortable, reliable, hygienic and cost effective.  Along with this we are providing menstrual hygiene education to equip these girls with appropriate health knowledge and information about the changes their bodies go through as they enter puberty. 

The initial rollout of this program commenced in May 2013 with our residential girls at Jordan House.  The next stage will be the girls in our community sponsorship program in Kasubi and then the girls of Abim district who are in our sponsorship program.  Eventually we would like to introduce this program into entire schools both here in urban Kampala and the rural northern districts. 

In this day and age it is unthinkable that the monthly menstrual cycle stops girls from attending school.  For just $20 you can support our project to Keep a Ugandan Girl in School.  Giving her every opportunity to gain a full education by equipping her with sanitary products that last for 12 months, an education booklet and attendance to a training session that includes health education about puberty and menstrual hygiene along with information on how to use and care for the AFRIpads.  Together we can make a difference in the lives of girls in Uganda, breaking the cycle of poverty and educating the nation!