“I want to make sure that all the girls in my community go to school and get good jobs.”
Saluwa, 15, Uganda
“I want to make sure that all the girls in my community go to school and get good jobs,” Saluwa told us, while carefully stitching fabric together to make sanitary pads for her peers.
Keeping girls in school is a big dream for a 15-year-old, but it’s one that Saluwa is helping to make possible one sanitary pad at a time.
Girls like Saluwa are learning how to produce their own pads through a new initiative funded by Canadian Feed The Children through local partner UCOBAC. The initiative is designed to combat the high rate of adolescent girls who miss or drop out of school in Uganda because they don’t have the supplies they need.
It’s an important initiative in a country where UNICEF estimates that 60 percent of girls will miss class once they start menstruating because their schools lack the facilities and resources they need to manage their periods.
From missing classes and falling behind in their education, to leaving school altogether, the lack of available and affordable sanitary pads is a big problem when it comes to keeping girls in school.
PERIODS AND EDUCATION
Nearly one in every two girls in Uganda fail to complete primary school, and only one in five make it to secondary school. The stigma of girls getting their periods, and the challenge in accessing sanitary pads and proper facilities, plays a big role in girls leaving school.
Girls whose families are unable to afford or access store-bought sanitary pads are often forced to make makeshift products using available material like newspaper and rags. These are less effective, are more likely to become contaminated with bacteria, and don’t give girls the confidence they need to attend school while on their periods.
Once girls drop out of school they also become more vulnerable to child marriage.
Saluwa has seen it happen. “I know some girls who dropped out of school,” she reported. “Some girls got married to others in the village because they lacked the basic necessities of life.”
Providing sanitary pads to girls can lead to better school performance, higher retention rates, less early marriage and pregnancy, and the chance to escape the cycle of poverty.
Saluwa agrees: “Education is surely good for girls because when you go to school you don’t suffer a lot. When you are not educated, you give birth to children you can’t take care of. Sometimes you get married and the man might mistreat you.”
GIRLS SUPPORTING GIRLS
“It is important to learn how to make sanitary pads because you can make them for yourself and use them anytime,” Saluwa explained. “The pads we make are cheaper than those we buy.”
Ever since learning how to make her own sanitary pads, Saluwa has started supporting other girls with her new found skills too: “I help my friends when they have their periods. I make pads at school and collect them so they can use them too.”
The safe space group Saluwa belongs to also provides additional support through positive mentorship with a female teacher. It is a place for girls like Saluwa to discuss important issues like girls rights and education, HIV/AIDS, sexual reproductive health, and early marriage.
Along with private latrines built with support from Canadian Feed The Children, Saluwa’s school is well on its way to keeping more girls in school.
Saluwa is working on it too – when she hears girls thinking about leaving school “I talk to them and encourage them to stay.” She plans on being a teacher when she grows up so she mentor more girls to stay in school.
KEEP GIRLS IN SCHOOL
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