If the headline of this blog post didn’t stop you dead in your tracks and encourage you to read on, I’m not sure what would. It certainly caught my attention…especially since this is a reality for many young women in Africa who do not have access to necessary feminine items that we in the United States, often take for granted.
Research released by the Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) indicated that girls aged between 11 and 13 in northern Uganda drop out of school due to menstrual stigmatization. According to Gusmach Aciro, the coordinator of the Northern Uganda Girls Education Movement (NUGEM), approximately 80% of girls absent themselves from school when they start experiencing menstruation. FAWE further discloses that the lack of sanitary pads, absence of water and separate toilet facilities for girls in many schools is responsible for the drop-out rate.
This news shook me to the core.
Young women are marginalized as they reach puberty, and are forced–due to lack of material (pads, water, toilet facilities) and community support–to drop out of school.
In a separate report released in December 2010, the Integrated Sustainable Livelihoods (ISL) revealed that due to lack of resources, some young girls in Zimbabwe are using pieces of cloth, newspapers, cow dung and tissues as sanitary ware during their monthly menstruation.
To put it into financial context, an average pack of sanitary pads costs US$4 . This means that a family with four girls needs US$16 — a sum normally beyond the reach of poor households.
Risitseng Rukasha, Projects Officer for the sanitary pads project, said buying pads was considered a less priority by the vulnerable and poor populations who were more concerned about putting food on the table. “During this period, they not only experience the characteristic abdominal pain and mood alterations, but also have to be absent from school for fear of odours emanating from newspapers and rags they use to contain their menstrual flow,” says Rukasha. Furthermore, the organization had to dispel the myth that menstruation is a “sickness,” and instead, is a natural physical process. It said that women’s blood was not diseased and dirty –and in fact, was a harmless by-product of a biological event.
(Pictured: Re-usable sanitary pads – a cheap alternative)
Here in the US, one of the most worrisome challenges for parents is actually having the talk with their daughters about menstruation. Compared to many women residing in impoverished countries, a conversation should be a walk in the park! We’re fortunate as a developed country to have access to not only water, separate toilet facilities and educational support, but the basic feminine hygiene materials to share with young women so that they aren’t dropping out of school or being ousted by their communities. Keeping things in perspective when preparing for menstruation helps make a difference. Imagine having to pull your daughter from school when she reached puberty rather than simply arm her with pads/tampons and deodorant! Quite a different view when global conditions are taking into account.
So, our advice bears repeating: “Celebrate and Educate” your daughters, nieces, and granddaughters early for what is biologically expected to occur. And in doing so, feel free to use the latest world news to provide a sense of perspective that will certainly shift the conversation from uncomfortable and embarrassing to “OMG…cow dung?”
For more on this research and how the FAWE and ISL are helping women in impoverished countries, go to: