Nearly a quarter of Ugandan girls between the ages of 12 and 18 drop out of school when they begin menstruation, the country’s Education and Sports Ministry reported.
If nothing is done to end period poverty in Uganda, the country will struggle to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, warned John Chrysostom Muyingo, Uganda’s state minister for higher education. Addressing the lack of access to menstrual health education and sanitary products plays a crucial role in achieving several of the 17 SDGs, from good health and quality education to gender equality and access to water and sanitation for all.
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 an early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications.
When girls in Uganda are on their periods, New Vision reported, absenteeism is at 28% compared to 7% during non-period days, according to a Meniscus report by the BioMedical Centre.
“It's not just about having pads,” Molly Fitzgerald, senior technical adviser at the organization Plan International USA, told Global Citizen. “Are there girl-friendly designs for the facilities to access them in privacy?”
Rural primary and secondary schools in Uganda have failed to provide proper water sanitation and hygiene facilities and sanitary products to students. Even some schools that have access to water and bathrooms are unable to maintain the facilities. Corruption has stopped funds from being used to improve access to sanitary products and hygiene facilities, according to New Vision.
If Uganda successfully ends period poverty, school attendance in Uganda will improve and people who menstruate will have better health, Muyingo said at a World Menstrual Hygiene Day workshop in May.
Muyingo said the government is committed to fighting period poverty and pointed to the revised national sexuality education framework that will teach children about menstruation. Age-appropriate informational packets about menstruation are being dispersed in schools, and training teachers to help students manage the physical and mental changes associated with menstruation is a top priority, he assured.
Read More: Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know
One study found that 93% of schools have conducted special educational sessions on menstrual health management, according to Angel Nakafero, the technical adviser in the gender unit at the education ministry.
The government has also partnered with the Ugandan Red Cross in the “Keep a Girl In School Initiative” to distribute sanitary napkins in schools, as well as the AFRIpads, a local manufacturer of reusable sanitary pads.
“If we want to drive positive change and combat period poverty holistically, it is really important that alongside improving women and girls’ access to affordable and hygienic solutions for managing their monthly cycle, we are also addressing knowledge gaps, taboos, and challenging complex social norms,” Sophia Grinvalds, managing director for AFRIpads, told Global Citizen.
But President Yoweri Museveni has received criticism for not following through with his 2016 pledge to grant sanitary napkins to all girls in Uganda’s schools.
To ensure that Uganda can provide access to menstrual hygiene management for all, some experts suggest blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies that prevent further corruption. Blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies make period product donations more transparent, according to Jill Ni, director of the Binance Charity Foundation. Binance Charity Foundation sends crypto donations directly to girls in need and they can use them to redeem sanitary napkins. Using this strategy, no one can touch the donations and the number of girls who receive them is easily tracked. The initiative has reached 1,400 girls in Uganda’s Luuka and Iganga areas and aims to support 50,000 girls by the end of 2019.
“For too long, both in Uganda and worldwide, period poverty has led to women and girls being marginalized within society which has a huge impact on their daily lives and a long-lasting impact economically, socially, and on well-being,” AFRIpads’ Grinvalds said.