A simple solution to a huge problem
A staggering 80% of girls in Uganda drop out of primary education. For 30% of these girls, the key reason is the combination of the stigma around menstruation and the unaffordability of disposable sanitary pads. TAO’s most recent project provides a simple, but highly effective solution: re-useable, washable sanitary pads, combined with awareness raising.
This issue has received a lot of media attention in Uganda, for example this New Vision article shares girls’ stories behind his tragic waste of future opportunities. It tells of girls resorting to using inadequate and unhygienic rags, suffering humiliating bullying and being forced to share latrines with boys – many of whom have no understanding of menstruation. Even at home the taboos mean girls attempt to dry the rags out of sight, with the result that they often wear dangerously damp and bacterially-infested cloth.
Millions of girls miss up to 18 days per term – including exam days. They usually end up dropping out of school. Others try to raise money to buy sanitary pads, including engaging in transactional sex, which puts them at risk of HIV and STI infection. And orphan girls have it particularly hard, often having no one to turn to for information and advice.
Overwhelming reasons to reduce girls’ drop-out rate in Uganda:
- Over 30% of Ugandan girls have their first baby by 18
- HIV infection rates 9x higher in girls than boys of same age
- One of the highest maternal death rates in the world, 25% due to unsafe abortions
- Increasing female literacy by 10% lowers infant mortality rate by 10%
For every 1,000 girls completing one additional year of schooling, 2 maternal deaths and c.45 infant deaths would be prevented.
To address this huge problem, Scott Bader Commonwealth has funded TAO to run a pilot project in Kole District to establish a self-sustaining social enterprise producing re-usable, washable sanitary pads at an affordable price. By making a small profit on the sales it will generate the income it needs to be self-sustaining.
Our project provides the sewing machines, initial materials required and provision of a secure room for production and storage of the pads. In addition, we are constructing latrines for girls. As this Guardian article reports, Ugandan Government statistics show that for every 71 pupils there is only one latrine, meaning that it’s typically shared by boys and girls.
Crucially, female teachers will also provide health education to girls, covering reproductive health and providing a comfortable environment for the girls to discuss menstruation, puberty and relations with boys.
By creating an effective and self-sustaining approach, we hope it will be adopted widely across Uganda by other local authorities and schools, and/or by the national government. Already the President of Uganda has expressed great interest in this project. Moreover, as our 22 years of working in Uganda has demonstrated, communities are likely to be quick to adopt effective models and we hope that the enterprise will be adopted to help women of all ages.
This is a pilot project, intended to explore approaches and develop ways to change attitudes, as well as establish a self-sustaining social-enterprise. This means that the project is changing as it goes along. See Current projects for further details.