Our first campaigns to improve menstrual hygiene in Ntungamo district focused on secondary schools in the district. We were subsequently informed that we ought to focus on primary schools as the need is greater amongst that age group.
Our menstrual hygiene ambassadors, therefore, visited one Itojo Central Primary school and heard directly from year seven girls and their teacher. The situation here was indeed as bad as we had been told.
Most girls did not have access to hygienic absorbents during their periods and amongst the things they used were, old clothes, rags, banana fibres, leaves, cotton, feathers etc. some amongst the girls, missed school during their periods whilst those who had access to disposal sanitary pads didn’t change them often.
Disposal sanitary towels are expensive to buy and as such most parents encourage their daughters to ensure that one towel lasts 7-9 hours. Inevitability this leads to infections and several of the girls in year seven that use disposal sanitary towels, reported various infections.
The girls were given a reusable menstrual hygiene kit made at our workshop in Itojo sub-county. The kit has two liners and 8 napkins and if used correctly, it lasts three years. The kit comes with a backpack that enables girls to carry their pads discreetly.
Itojo Primary School is one of many schools in the sub-county that do not provide hygienic products for managing periods. The consequences of this, are that a large number of girls drop of school for something that costs as little as £5 and lasts three years.
The lack of access to menstrual hygiene management may mean that nation-states will achieve the following Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 12.
The theme of this year’s International Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD) was education. The founders of MHD argue that education on menstrual hygiene changes everything. They call for improved information and menstrual hygiene education for boys, men, teachers, health workers and other professionals so that they can break down negative social norms and provide accurate information and support.
They have argued for the inclusion of menstrual hygiene management as a critical component of reproductive health training for adolescents, building the capacity of teachers to teach about MHM with comfort, the breaking down of taboos around periods, the availability of water and sanitation facilities in schools and work places in order that women and girls have privacy and dignity as well as policies that reduce the cost of menstrual absorbents and are kind to the environment.
We have spent the past year looking at access menstrual hygiene in schools in Ntungamo district SW Uganda . The program focuses on the provision of information on menstrual hygiene as well as ensuring that girls can access menstrual absorbents.
In the course of the year we learned that 53% of girls we spoke to did not know what a period is before they experienced it. 42% of the girls regularly miss between 2-5 days of school each month during their period because they do not have access to sanitary products.
We also learned that some amongst the girls use unsanitary products such as old rags, mattress stuffing etc. during their periods.
Education about menstrual hygiene should concern us all. As part of this year’s MHD activities in Ntungamo, we distributed free Menstrual Hygiene kits to women in the village of Rwentojo SW Uganda. We have been working with this group of women on income generation.
This got me thinking about the role of business in the promotion of menstrual hygiene. For instance, how and where does business fit into the promotion of menstrual hygiene? Is it through their supply chains or perhaps in places of work? Is this even an issue that business concerns itself with?
Do employers for instance, provide flexible working conditions that enable women that suffer painful periods to take time off or work from home should they need to? What about access to female only washrooms?
In my opinion, that sort of statistic would have huge implications for a business’s bottom line because it would impact productivity and outputs.
Menstruation hygiene matters to business in other but perhaps subtle ways such as the availability of skilled workers. Businesses need skilled people to grow and thrive and this cannot be achieved if the education system is not producing the necessary skills or female employees miss workdays due to periods.
With respect to education, in countries such as Uganda, access to Primary School Education is free under the Universal Primary Education initiative, but gaps exist in addressing issues that prevent girls from dropping out of school and some of these reasons are to do with poor menstrual hygiene management in schools.
This includes the availability of water, toilets, washrooms and hygienic menstrual products. It is not enough to increase school registration for girls who then drop out due to a lack of menstrual hygiene management.
In the long run this has direct implications for a country’s economic development due to a large number of girls who become adults that are trapped in poverty due to a lack of skills which they can use to create their own employment or access employment elsewhere.
The founders of MHD have argued, that in order for countries to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 12, nation states must pay attention to menstrual hygiene management. This being the case; Governments, Civil Society as well as Business should take menstrual hygiene management seriously.
On 28 May 2016, we launched a Menstrual Hygiene Management program (MHM) in Ntungamo district SW Uganda with a view to ensuring that women and girls manage their monthly period in a hygienic way. This involves ensuring that girls and women have access to information about menstruation as well as access to clean and safe menstrual absorbents.
As part of the access to information aspect of the program, our Program Manager and MHM Ambassadors visited 12 secondary schools within Ntungamo district SW Uganda over a course of 4 weeks. The team spoke with 1175 girls in all as well as some of their female teachers. Their findings are summarised below
53% of the girls didn’t know what menstruation was before they experienced it
61% of the girls have felt ashamed or embarrassed due to their periods
42% of the girls interviewed miss 2.6 days of school during their periods because they don’t have access to sanitary products which impacts negatively in their performance.
Students change their sanitary products every 9 hours.
Our team looked into how girls in Ntungamo secondary schools manage their periods and how they access to menstrual hygiene absorbents, and these are their findings;
48% of the students feel bad or very bad during their MPs
73% of the students use reusable pads but on average they change them every 9 hours which is not hygienic or healthy
13% of the students use reusable sanitary pads at school and a cloth at home
9.1% of the students use a cloth
4.4% of the students use leaves, mattress stuffing, toilet paper or nothing at all.
These findings are challenging to say the least. We cannot allow this situation to persist as it has direct implications for poverty.
We want to offer these girls a hygienic and sustainable way to manage their periods. We also want to ensure that girls do not miss school days because of a lack of access to menstrual absorbents. We however cannot do this without your help and you can make a difference for as a little as £1.
£1 provides a girl one pod that includes a napkin and a holder
£5 provides a girl a full kit
£10 provides two full kits
£20 provides 4 full kits
The pod and kits last for three years making this a cost effective way of managing periods. Please donate to our Sanitary Pads 4 Girls program today via our Virgin Money page
The aim of our Menstrual Hygiene Management program is to ensure that girls and women manage their monthly period in a hygienic way. This involves ensuring that girls and women have access to information about menstruation as well as access to clean and safe menstrual absorbents.
Following the set up of the sewing room in Ruhanga our menstrual hygiene ambassadors set off for Kampala for a two week residential course
I arrived in Kampala two weeks later just in time for their graduation.
Our 17 year old Agnes was top of the class.
The graduation was also attended by Gerald Karuhanga MP for Ntungamo district where our ambassadors hail from. In his speech, Karuhanga said that menstrual hygiene is an issue that is very close to his heart and promised to prioritise it during his 5 year term as an MP. He further promised to lobby government to remove import duty on fabrics used to make sanitary towels
International Menstruation Day
May 28 was Intenational Menstrual Hygiene Day and official launch our Menstrual Hygiene program across Ntungamo District. The event was attended by at least 160 including officers from the district as well as the municipality.
The initiative was launched by Karuhanga MP for Ntungamo who promised to work with LTHT to ensure the success of the program across the district
In February this year thirty nine girls from TEAM College received free sanitary packs as part of our trial. We heard from the girls and their Head Teacher on 28 May. They told us the pads had changed their lives whilst their Head Teacher reported reduced absenteeism.
We heard about the Menstrual Hygiene Ambassadors’ experience at the residential course in Kampala, which included participants from Kenya and Ghana and they too shared their experiences. We heard about gruesome practices such as girls being sewn up during their periods, not being allowed to milk cows and digging holes in the ground and using these as a means for managing periods etc
Where are the men in the conversation
As the event progressed it transpired that, hotel security were excluding men from the event on the assumption that this was a women only event. One of the men took exception to this and complained to us. He said
we are the ones that make decisions in the home and you are excluding us from the meeting
He had a point. A point that to goes to explain why in 2016 we still need an International Menstrual Hygiene Day. The fight for access to Menstrual Hygiene and sanitation should include men. We learned from our research that some of fathers believe that spending money on Menstrual Hygiene Management is a waste of money and that boys have a tendency to embarrass and shame girls during their periods
The Hard Work begins here
Now that the training is out of the way, work on producing sanitary towel kits for sell has started. And here are some of the completed products. I hope you are agree with me, when I say, they have done a fab job.
Can you help?
We have come a long way with this project and have set ourselves an ambitious goal of ensuring that every girl and woman in Ntungamo district can access sanitary pads at a reasonable cost.
Please consider supporting our efforts by making a donation via our VIRGIN PAGE
A week before celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day 2016, three young women from Itojo sub-county graduated from the Days for Girls University, a 2-week residential course to learn how to make washable sanitary pads and soap, become women’s reproductive health ambassadors and understand the basics to run an enterprise.
Gerald Karuhanga, the MP for Ntungamo Municipality who fully supports the exemption of taxes in women’s sanitary products, attended the graduation ceremony at the Days for Girls centre in Kamwokya, Kampala.
He would like to see a considerable reduction on girls ‘ school dropouts due to a lack of access to an affordable and sustainable alternative to reusable sanitary pads and would like Uganda to be an example to other African countries in their quest to provide girls and women tax-exempt sanitary products. o ignored
Let Them Help Themselves (LTHT), a UK based NGO which has recently opened a branch to operate in Uganda, has sponsored these three young ladies to attend the course and start up an enterprise to make washable sanitary pads in Ruhanga, Ntungamo.
LTHT is hosting an event at Jerusalem Tree Cottages in Ntungamo town next Saturday, May 28 coinciding with International Menstruation Day to bring together local politicians lead by Hon. Gerald Karahunga, men and women from all walks of life to talk about menstruation and the challenges girls and women face every month due to poor menstrual hygiene management infrastructure and lack of access to affordable sanitary products.
It will also be a great opportunity for the three graduates to introduce the washable sanitary pads to the community and promote women’s reproductive health among the attendees.
LTHT is hoping the event will be the trigger of a long journey to end with the existing taboo about periods and reproductive health in the rural areas of Western Uganda.