Menstrual Hygiene: A barrier to education of rural and underprivileged girls

I have spent a couple of months this year volunteering in an educational campaign aimed at promoting girls education in Zambia and I must say I have learned a lot. One of the important things that my experience has brought to light is the fact that education, especially for girls is so much more than just being able to afford school fees, uniforms and school supplies. While our campaign was mainly focused on these areas, I realized that the issue of menstrual health has an impact on how well as girl performs in school because for many girls who cannot afford proper sanitation during their period, the only option is to stay at home. The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, lack of clean toilets as well as the cultural taboo that shrouds menstruation is really holding back a lot of girls from excelling in school. Imagine having to take a week off school each month and how that would affect performance. I decided to look further into this issue and started to research sustainable solutions to the problem and so far I have come up with two solutions that I think would be very helpful 1. Initiate fundraising ventures that will fund the purchase of re-usable sanitary pads (I have come across some NGOs in Africa and the USA that are producing them 2. Create an easy to understand curriculum on menstrual health that can be adopted by schools in rural areas to help break the taboo Does anyone have any experience working with this issue? What are some successful strategies that can be implemented?

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  • Badejoko Fabamise

    Education is the most effective tool for empowerment. The girl-child needs greater access to quality education. Adopting strategies that can contribute to social change - both to impact girls’ awareness and attitudes about themselves and their bodies, as well as communities’ responses, to influence public and policy initiatives will be helpful. This may mean building, equipping and maintaining more Girls’ Secondary Schools - probably, one in each Local Government. Also, infrastructure in already existing girls’ secondary schools might need to be upgraded.

    These programmes should not only work to promote long term changes in girls’ self-esteem and control over their own bodies, but they should also work to recognize the special needs of girls and address practical issues such as enabling girls to continue in school by ensuring that schools are safe, convenient and hygienic.

    Using edutainment programmes may have a special appeal to young people and they may easily identify with its special opportunity to affect norms. Perhaps this will also help create the necessary conditions for change. 

  • Stella Bakibinga

    Here is a link to a story of a 14 year old Nepalese girl who was banished to the shed for menstruating

  • Ana Espinosa

    Thanks a lot  for sharing your thoughts and actions about this topic!

    ​I have been reading more about this  and found out really disturbing practices specially in countries in the middle east, I couldn't believe that something naturally part of our bodies could take so much negative place in the daily basis of girls all around the world, certainly I was taking so much for granted. 

    A few years ago a friend of mine that was living on an unprivileged zone in Mexico, start using sustainable cups made specially for menstruation, as a result of her experience and because I care about the environment a lot, I decided to try those myself and I think has been a great change. The cups are made from a special materials that must be rinse every time before and after usage but they last aprox 10 years, are very unexpressive and besides a few introduction of how to use them, you don't need something else. The one that I bought was made by a women community in Mexico, that led by an entrepreneur start doing this as a business.  I know that it might be a lot of and barriers in the countries you are talking about but maybe starting with something like this could not only bring a solution to the girls in the communities but also an opportunity to use WEE as a tool to benefit all the communities around and obviously the families of this girls. 

    You can find more info about this cups in websites, take a look at the educate and empower section for more ideas!

  • Margaret Ngugi

    This is a problem in Kenya too. This is sad because there are companies that give pads for very little money. I met one gentleman who began this in kenya. An Ngo centred on giving cheap sanitary towels to girls so that they can go to school. I do not think re usable towels are a good idea though. It seems like a cheap solution but in the case of these poor they do not even have water to drink let alone to wash the sanitary towels. Chances are high that they will re use them dirty and expose themselves to even higher risks in terms of dieseases or maybe share them and transmit diseases amongst each other. I think cheap disposable sanitary towels are the answer. They could be distributed in school to encourage girls to go to school


  • Catherine Nyoike

    I agree reusable sanitary towels have not only benefited girls and women through managing menstruation, they have also provided income as some women groups are now producing the same for sale.

  • Michel Choto

    Thank you so much Thabo for this contribution, this Topic is very close to my heart as i am also advocating for girls education in marginalised areas. You are right Rural girls suffer alot when their menstruating mainly because they do not have adequate resources to use and resort to leaves and cobs which also poses a health risk for them, and then on top of that they have to deal with the cultural beliefs that when one is menstruating they must not socialise with others, therefore they are confined at home during this preiod.

    You have raised good points. Besides fundraising girls in rural areas could be empowered if they produced the re-usable sanitary pads themselves. If machines and he right maetrial was purchased fo rthem and training provided they could form a coorporative in their community where they produce these re-usable sanitary pads for themselves, instead of waiting for aid.

    Checkout this NGO in Uganda that is producing these re-usable sanitary pads.

    This business can be scaled to the rest of Africa

  • Stella Bakibinga

    Thanks Thabo. In Uganda, thé reusable sanitary towels are made from locally available materials. This has made them quite affordable for the girls to use and therefore not skip school every month.

    In schools that have both girls and boys, it is important that girls have their own bathrooms so as to comfortably change whenever necessary. However some schools let boys and girls use the same toilet facilities and so girls stay at home for fear of being noticed by the boys.

  • Kanchan Amatya

    Hello Thabo, WaterAid has published a helpful resource guide called “Menstrual Hygiene Matters” to help international development practitioners incorporate MHM into their programs across different sectors—including advice on budgeting, creating a puberty education curriculum for primary/secondary schools, working with marginalized and vulnerable women and girls (including physically disabled and HIV positive individuals), and talking to local media about MHM efforts. “Menstrual Hygiene Matters” is available for a complete download or as individual toolkits and modules here. This could give you more insight on successful efforts to address MHM related issues.

    At one of the project sites in Nepal, we have addressed the lack of girl-friendly facilities by funding the installation of a new latrine block with a private washing area. Additionally, a female menstrual outreach instructor was hired to provide advice and support for girls who may not have a mother or trusted confidant with whom to discuss these personal issues. Setting up mobile medical camps by advising women who practice chhaupadi, a traditional Hindu system where menstruating women and girls are treated as an outcast by the society, were also effective. Definitely setting up a curriculum on menstrual health should be adopted by both urban and rural schools! This could help girls and boys understand human biology more which could help defy orthodox traditions.

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