Activists and teachers have called for the provision of free sanitary pads for schoolgirls which will ensure that no girl misses classes or drops out of school just because of menstruation periods.
With knowledge that many girls miss school during their periods, in August 2013, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) passed a resolution urging all partner states to waive taxes on sanitary pads so as to increase their availability and affordability for young girls, which remains unachieved.
UN estimates one in 10 girls from Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle, with some missing out on 20 per cent of their education period.
Studies show that absence of appropriate sanitary materials to absorb menstrual flow does not only affect female’s reproductive health but their acquisition of education since girls often choose to stay at home when they have their periods.
In Rwanda, some significant achievements have been registered as the Ministry of Education has a budget line to support girls’ access to sanitary pads in nine and 12 year basic education.
The Girl’s Room (Icyumba cy’Umukobwa) idea in the schools is reportedly making a huge impact as the room is equipped with sanitary pads, towels, pain killers, a bed, water, soap and other necessities.
By and large, however, according to John Uwayezu, the Managing Director of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), a local NGO which advocates for access to affordable menstruation pads for rural women and girls, in Rwanda “all girls can’t afford to buy sanitary pads, which is why 18 per cent of girls miss their work or classes when they are in their periods.”
His advice is that matters to do with menstruation should be taught in all schools, and sanitary pads “availed in all health centres where they will be provided for free to poor girls across the country.”
Asked why girls who cannot afford sanitary pads should get them free of charge, Dominique Uwase Alonga, the CEO of Imagine We Rwanda, a social enterprise that seeks to improve the reading and creative writing cultures in the country, said that “it should be a basic human right.”
She said: “For parents who make less than a dollar a day, we can’t debate this need anymore. It should be free of charge or taken care of by the Government until at least the child is done with secondary school.
“The statistics around the world are startling on the school dropout rates for females and if we are truly pro girl education, this should be the first issue to tackle.”
Dativah Mukamusonera, the Country Director of Komera, a local NGO striving to build self-confident young women through education, community and sport, said poor girls cannot afford sanitary pads.
“We work with girls from families that are economically disadvantaged by giving them scholarships and all scholastic materials. From our experience we teach girls how to use pads when we enroll them into our programme and this shows us that they can’t afford it.
“We also do home visits and when you really see where they come from, they cannot be able to get pads. Instead, they use clothes which can even cause other diseases.”
According to Alain Munyaburanga, the Head teacher of Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology, his school provides sanitary towels to all students as this is part of its budget but it would be great if the same was provided free of charge to all school-going girls everywhere in the country.
Munyaburanga said: “It would be amazing; it would be great. The problem is how do you determine who can afford and who cannot afford? Actually schools should have them and be able to give them to the girls freely. For us we are prepared and we do provide them but any school should do the same.”
“I am speaking for boarding schools but this shouldn’t only be for boarding or residential schools; even the day scholars should be able to get sanitary towels at school.”