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Monday
Apr062015

WEST NILE: Keeping Girls in School

Faidah, Lee and Irene, in Juba, South Sudan following a two week-long training in Conflict Transformation in 2011.Partera will be working with the Ugandan NGO, Community Initiatives for Peace and Development (CIPAD), headed by two women, Faidah Dede Obombasa (L) and Irene Dawa. The project work will take place in the West Nile Region of Uganda, a volatile region marked by insurgency violence led by the Lord's Resistance Army, high rates of disease, widespread illiteracy particularly amongst girls and women, and the lowest life expectancy rate in the country (40).

Despite free education, fewer than 38% of girls will finish school due to poverty, lack of education and resources related to puberty, menstruation and sexuality, early school-leaving, early pregnancy, early marriage, effectively removing women's voices from critical forums of discussion and decision-making about Uganda's future. 

Click here to donate towards this exciting project! And read on...

The current national constitution includes elements of economic and social rights that help to underpin efforts to mainstream gender equality in policies and programmes but high levels of poverty and resilience of patriarchal social constructs play a big role in constraining impact of many well intentioned policies. (Dr Deborah Kasente, Gender and Education in Uganda, UNESCO)

Our participation in CIPAD's Reusable Sanitary Towel Project: Break The Silence On Menstruation, Keep Girls In School, will focus on training in gender and development with hundreds of adolescent primary school-age girls.  We will support the project's training in and production of eco-pads. This two-year project's goals include:  providing education on menstruation and healthy sexuality, reducing early school-leaving amongst girls as well as early pregnancies and HIV-AIDS infection, improving their sense of themselves as young women with important contributions to make, indispensable to their family's, community's and country's future wellbeing. CIPAD also includes amongst its long-term project goals 'Better, healthier, well-informed and supportive communities'. 

 

Scroll down to find out more about the situation in the West Nile region and how your dollars could change the lives of young girls and women. Read about the Lucy Athenio, her own experience as a girl child in school and her determination and that of Irene and Faidah to KEEP GIRLS IN SCHOOL.

Click here to donate towards this exciting project!

Reusable Sanitary Towel Project: Break The Silence On Menstruation, Keep Girls In School
by CIPAD, research by Irene Dawa

Girls and women of all ages still have limited say over their lives and in particular over their sexuality. School-going young girls in rural communities cannot afford to buy sanitary pads and end up staying homes during their menstrual cycle.

THE PROBLEM

In Uganda, drop-out rates are high for rural girls. Up to 80% of girls entering primary school will never complete their primary education. In a talk with senior woman teachers and head teachers in five schools in Maracha districts, 7 out 10 girls miss schools weekly, out of 50 girls enrolled in school, 35 of them drop out once they start their menstruation.  Ninety percent of girls get pregnant   because of lack of sex education. Country wide, Uganda has the highest teen pregnancy rate in sub-Saharan Africa with over 30% of Ugandan girls having their first baby by the time they are 18. HIV infection rates are 9 times higher in girls than boys the same age and Uganda has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world, 25% of which are from unsafe abortions. Research shows that girls use unhygienic alternatives to sanitary pads, such as newspaper or even sand and leaves, or sitting on cow patties. Doing this puts them at a huge risk of infection. And, data shows that, nine million girls aged between 13 and 19 years in Africa, 'Eighty percent of those were missing a week of school every month... That's just time you can't make up and it's affecting their education.'

MAIN CHALLENGES FACED BY GIRLS

  • Expense of commercial sanitary pads
  • Absenteeism from school
  • Limited education about the facts of menstruation
  • Stigma-induced embarrassment  and low self esteem
  • Leakage from poor quality protective materials
  • Risk of HIV infections
  • Early marriage as a result of school drop out

This project will increase the chances of academic success for over 2000 Ugandan girls in Maracha district west Nile region for a period of 2 years through

  • Producing and distributing reusable eco-friendly sanitary pads through the CIPAD girls support programme.
  • Training of girls in gender and development and conflict transformation.
  • Training of peer educators on menstrual hygiene management, sexually transmitted diseases and how to avoid early pregnancies.
  • Producing movies in Lugbara local language on puberty, growing up and ways to protect against unwanted sexual advances.
  • IEC [WHO's Information Education & Communication] materials and media related activities.

JUSTIFICATION:

Eighty five percent (85%) of Ugandans live in rural poverty earning an average of $150 a year. More than 50% of the population is under 15 years old, and the education of these children is critical for Uganda’s economic development. Educating girls is widely regarded as one of the best ways to improve the economy and wealth of developing countries - known as 'the girl effect'. However, the girls consistently fare less well academically than boys.

Academic performance correlates closely with the school attendance. Absenteeism and dropout cases are high for rural Ugandan girls for reasons often linked to their reproductive biology, menstruation and early pregnancy. Menstruation is treated with silence and as a taboo, topic with menstrual blood are always viewed as unclean and harmful, which limits girls access to relevant important information about their bodies.

Evidence suggests that the period around puberty is one in which many girls drop out of school or are absent from school for significant periods of time. This means that girls miss more than 6weeks of school every year and women miss valuable work hours. Limited access to safe, affordable, convenient and culturally appropriate methods for dealing with menstruation has far-reaching implications for rights and physical, social and mental wellbeing of many adolescent girls in Uganda. It undermines sexual and reproductive health, wellbeing and has been shown to restrict access to education. Faced with complete lack of sanitary pads, this can only mean that the girls miss school and this has negative impact on the quality of learning they receive, their overall academic performance, their retention and transition through the education system.

Furthermore many adolescent girls in rural communities have limited knowledge about their bodies especially in relation to menstruation; sexual and reproductive health. The Ugandan school system is woefully inadequate in educating girls about health sexuality. A 2006 study found that 44% of boys and 50% of girls aged 15-19, had never participated in a classroom discussion on sexuality nor attended an education talk on sex before their first sexual encounter. For the most part school children rely on self-education from peers who often know as little as they do.

The inaccessibility of menstrual products results in embarrassment, anxiety and shame when girls stain their clothes which is stigmatizing. Once girls start missing school, they are far more likely to be exposed to other risks like early pregnancy and marriage, HIV/AIDS. The common practice now is to use old rag cloths which cause leakages and present high risk of infection. Increasing girls’ completion of education cycle is a critical component which will empower them economically and in particular ensure that they are more able to be involved in decision making over all aspects of their lives. This is occasioned by the fact that girls who cannot afford sanitary pads more often are at risk of manipulation by men who promise to provide them with the money to buy pads, and eventually they are forced to have sexual relations which ultimately leads to unwanted pregnancies and further risk of maternal and child health related problems as they are normally not prepared to take care of these children at these early ages.

ACTIVITIES

Making reusable sanitary pads (eco-pads) has radically proved to create a world where women and girls can step boldly into the promise of their future and break the cycle of poverty. This will be done through the production and distribution of reusable sanitary pads as well as ensuring provision of menstrual hygiene management education to all primary girls in all schools in Maracha and Yumbe district west Nile region, Yumbe district is estimated to be having the highest dropout of girls with 4 out of 10 yearly followed by Maracha district with 3 out of 10 yearly this is according to the district education officers of the two districts. By acquiring knowledge and getting access to reusable sanitary pads, the overall status of the girls will be enhanced as myths and misconception that surrounds puberty and menstruation will be demystified.

The design and production of these sanitary pads will utilize available low-cost raw materials which will also encourage self-sufficiency in these communities. The proposed project will use a design pattern from the women’s group in South Sudan, a project which was funded by GIZ and overseen by the current founder and ED of CIPAD Uganda. The towel use 100% cotton flannel and a nylon protective casing which has a life cycle of 1 years. These cloth menstrual pads (Eco-pads) require hand washing in salty cold water or with soap where available. These Eco-pads are less-likely to cause rashes, contact dermatitis and remove the risk of toxic shock syndrome. Girls with sensitive skins and allergies will find the cloth pads more comfortable against their skins. These reusable pads will be environmentally friendly and the training will cover safe disposal and management aspects.

Furthermore production and distribution of the reusable pads will be an entry point for the promotion of a wider action on menstrual hygiene and reproductive health rights focused on schools and involving the wider community.an integrated approach of this type has not been carried out in this districts before. The project will also demonstrate how opportunities for contact with girls and communities on specific issue can be used to promote and develop wider action on issues that affect girl’s health status and will identify appropriate strategies for action.in the meantime, campaigns to demystify menstruation will be rolled out in all the primary schools in Maracha and Yumbe district. This campaign will aim to make adolescent girls recognize that they are contributing to the silence and stigma around menstruation and encourage them to use their voices to talk about the topic and themselves and demand their rights.

For further information on the project scope, accountability and CIPAD, write to info@partera.ca.

To support this project and Partera's participation, click here!

 


[1] Research by Irene Dawa Executive director CIPAD Uganda  June 2014