Breaking the Silence: Empowering Girls Through Menstrual Hygiene Management

From the 2020 Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) study conducted in Obongi and Moyo districts, finding indicated that Girls have limited access to sanitary pads that hinders their access to education. This was evident, in the community of Lomunga where Lomunga primary School is situated.  Girls in Lomunga Primary schools once reached puberty stage were immediately burdened with societal expectations of marriage and childbearing, while schools perpetuated the secrecy by isolating menstruating girls from their peers. Many girls dropped out of school due to the shame and discomfort associated with menstruation and those who remained in schools faced to makeshift solutions like use torn towels or cotton wool, which only deepened the stigma that could definitely leads to sexual exploitation and others succumbed to early marriages and teenage pregnancies perpetuating to cycles of poverty and missed opportunities.

This however changed with the coming of Adolescent Girls’ Education in Crisis Education (AGENCI) project with funding from Global Affairs Canada implemented in Moyo and Obongi districts. To mitigate challenges faced by adolescent girls, capacity building of Senior Women Teachers on Menstruation Hygiene Management including making reusable sanitary pads was conducted. This was cascaded to adolescent girls and female youth including boys. In addition, they provided in-kind assistance and sanitary pads to support school going adolescent girls.

The project transformed gender norms by creating a more inclusive environment as parents began prioritizing the health and education of girls. Girls in and out of school now feel empowered.

Before the AGENCI project, Alioru Berta, a teacher at Lomunga Primary School- Obongi District, had witnessed firsthand the stifling silence surrounding menstruation in her community. Raised in a culture where the topic was taboo, she knew the detrimental impact it had, particularly on young girls’ education and well-being. In her youth, girls who reached puberty were immediately burdened with societal expectations of marriage and childbearing, while schools perpetuated the secrecy by isolating menstruating girls from their peers.

The consequences were dire. Many girls dropped out of school due to the shame and discomfort associated with menstruation. Those who remained faced challenges in managing their periods, resorting to makeshift solutions like torn towels or cotton wool, which only deepened the stigma surrounding menstruation. Vulnerable to exploitation, some girls succumbed to early marriages and teenage pregnancies, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and missed opportunities.

This however changed with the arrival of the Adolescent Girls’ Education in Crisis Initiative (AGENCI) project. The project gathered Senior Women Teachers (SWT) and selected adolescent girls from the project schools for a three days’ training on Menstruation Hygiene Management.

During the three-day training session, participants learned about menstrual hygiene practices and were taught how to make reusable sanitary pads using locally available materials. Boys were actively engaged in the process, challenging traditional gender norms and fostering a more inclusive environment.

The project also distributed materials such as hand needles, pins, rulers, leak proof and pair of scissors to enable SWTs train adolescent girls and female youth as well as boys on MHM including making reusable sanitary pads.   “From our school, 15 girls and 5 boys were first trained and then later more groups were brought in until majority of the school population was taken through MHM training,” Berta revealed.

As awareness spread, parents also began to support their daughters, encouraging them to prioritize their health and education.

“The impact has been transformative. Teenage pregnancies and early marriages have greatly declined in the community, while school retention rates have soared. Girls feel empowered to openly discuss menstruation and support one another, breaking the silence that had once masked their experiences. Even beyond the classroom, the knowledge has spread, reaching communities and refugee settlements, which have become a catalyst for change,” Alioru Berta, senior woman teacher noted.

Alioru Berta extreme left posing with learners after training on making reusable sanitary towels. Photo Credit: Joseph Waninda/WIU

Adding, “I appreciate the collaborative efforts of Global Affairs Canada, World University Service of Canada, and Windle International Uganda. Menstrual hygiene management is now a priority in schools and communities. The School Management Committee and Parent Teachers’ Association have allocated a budget to cater for the Menstruation Hygiene Management and issues that pertain to the welfare of the girls and female youth creating a ripple effect of positive change.”

Out of the 36,848 learners enrolled in Palorinya Refugee settlement, 27,429 (74%) of them benefited from the MHM training. These escalated the knowledge to other youth in schools and community.

Compiled by: Joseph Waninda & Samuel Opira

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