Education, especially for girls, is one of the best ways to increase a developing country’s welfare. A nation’s GDP can rise by three percent when the number of girls in school increases by 10 percent. On an individual level, every year a girl stays in school, her potential income increases by about 15 to 25 percent. These numbers show that education in Uganda is, just like everywhere else, an ever-important issue.
In Uganda, girls have a low track record of completing their education. Studies show that only 22 percent of Ugandan girls are enrolled in secondary school, contrasting the 91 percent enrolled in in primary school.
Analysts have often pointed out that early marriages and social stigmas keep girls from receiving a complete education in Uganda. But there’s a simpler, more intimate reason behind those causes: menstruation.
This topic remains uncomfortable and awkward in developed countries, but Ugandan girls face this problem on an entirely different level. Many developed countries, including Uganda, have myths and stigmas surrounding periods that shame girls when they menstruate. As a result, most girls have no understanding of what is happening to their bodies or how to take care of themselves.
Adding to this difficulty is the lack of availability of feminine hygiene products. Drugstores that carry disposable pads, tampons and other products can be more than 40 minutes away. Even then, these products are usually imported and are too expensive for most Ugandan women to afford.
Desperate to stop the monthly flow, Ugandan women often resort to using pieces of cloth, shreds of foam mattresses, toilet paper, newspapers, banana plant fibers and even leaves. Not only are these options ineffective and uncomfortable, but are also extremely unhygienic, putting girls at risk for diseases.
About half of Ugandan girls skip three days of school every month because they do not have any feminine hygiene products and do not want to stain their clothes. As the absences stack up, many girls find it too hard to continue their education and eventually drop out. Social stigmas also place pressure on girls to marry once they get their periods and not remain in school.
However, despite the struggle, many girls want to stay in school and complete their education in Uganda, and they’re getting help from several international organizations to do so. Wateraid, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to provide clean water and sanitation efforts to developing countries around the world, started hygiene clubs in Ugandan schools. At these clubs, girls learn about menstruation and how to make their own pads and products.
One of these clubs, located at St. Mary’s School in northeastern Uganda, has taken things a step further. This hygiene club travels to other skills singing, dancing, and even rapping about their periods. This group of girls wants to raise awareness about the stigmas surrounding menstruation and promote education in Uganda.
Despite the work of Wateraid and other groups, many girls in Uganda are still skipping school because they don’t have feminine hygiene products. Wateraid ambitiously plans to supply the necessary sanitation products, from tampons to toilets, for every child and every school in every part of the world by 2030.
On an entrepreneurial level, start-up AFRIpads donates reusable pads to women in Uganda and other areas where women do not have easy access to menstrual products. These organizations hope that soon every girl in Uganda will be able to attend school every day of the school year, whether she has her period or not—and no one will shame her if she does.
– Sydney Cooney