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Water & Sanitation

Students in Malawi Are Making Reusable Pads to Fight Menstruation Stigma and Keep Girls in School

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Some children play soccer after school, others join study groups. At the Mloza Primary School in Malawi, boys and girls are joining the Sanitation Club to combat the stigma of menstruation.

The students join together to stitch together reusable sanitary pads out of cotton, waterproof lining, and other fabric, according to the BBC

In many countries, pads and other period products are affordable and accessible everyday items. But in Malawi, menstruation taboo and a lack of resources means girls miss out on school during their periods. Older girls especially tend to drop out of school at higher rates, in part due to inadequate sanitation facilities for girls, UNICEF reports.

Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, one in 10 girls on average miss school when they have their period. Those numbers are even higher in individual countries like Rwanda or Sierra Leone.

Read more: Menstruation Huts Are Illegal in Nepal, But Girls on Periods Are Still in Danger There

While the girls craft pads for themselves and their classmates, the boys at school join in the process and share their handiwork with siblings, 12-year-old Angelina Jumula told the BBC.

The reusable pads that the students make in the sanitation club serve as a crucial health and education resources, providing an affordable solution for girls in a country where where one sanitary pad can cost families an average day’s pay and helping to reduce stigma among boys.

"The boys assist us in making pads," Angelina said, adding that girls now discuss menstruation more openly and play sports while menstruating.

"Girls' attendance in schools has significantly improved since the programme was implemented," Catherine Mangani, the school teacher who runs the sanitation club, told the BBC.

Read More: The 2030 Agenda: What Role Does Menstrual Hygiene Play

The organization WaterAid, which introduced the pad-crafting program to several schools in Malawi including Angela’s program, confronts menstruation stigma across the globe. Its Menstrual Hygiene Matters campaign guides teachers, medical professionals, and others involved in water, sanitation, and hygiene efforts on how to break the silence around menstruation and share appropriate menstrual hygiene practices.

“You can find that a girl has only one underwear and two pieces of cloth for using during menses,” a teacher in Tanzania told WaterAid. “This makes it difficult for them to come to school during menses.”

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