After a 2008 survey revealed that half the girls miss school during their menstruation period, the Minister of Sports and Culture, Joseph Habineza, has said that a public awareness campaign on the taboo subject of menstruation will soon begin in a bid to find solutions to the problem.
“We are still in the planning phase of this sensitization drive but we aim to hold discussions on issues surrounding menstruation in various public places. This way, products like sanitary pads can be widely availed,” he said.
The development comes a few days after groups of women activists took to the streets with messages urging policy makers to waive taxes on sanitary pads so as to facilitate affordability and accessibility of these resources.
According to Habineza, the sensitization drive will also encourage Rwandans to teach their children about what to do during menstruation so that hygiene education as well as women health gets promoted.
According to the Head of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), Elizabeth Scharpf, the survey covered 500 girls and women in Rwanda.
“Out of those, 330 were girls, 18 percent of whom missed school specifically because pads were too expensive,” she said.
Scharpf added that there are also many other menstrual-related problems that make girls miss school, citing severe abdominal pains (cramps), the fact that menstruation remains a taboo subject and some girls lack education on what to do as well as lack of proper facilities like toilets.
“They miss about 3-4 days a month. There is 18 percent Value Added Tax on pads here while in Kenya and Uganda, which are also members of the East African Community, taxes on pads have been eliminated after similar campaigns,” she added.
“They have eliminated the taxes because they know that by eliminating this tax they increase access for girls and women, and in the long run, this will be better for their education and economic growth”.
Officials note that the cheapest sanitary pads in the country cost Rwf500 but are optimistic that that government will waive taxes to bring down the price.