According to a 2013 Unesco report, 71 per cent of pupils in Uganda have dropped out of school, a third of which are girls at primary level in rural areas. This is due to challenges such as poverty, early pregnancies, poor changing room facilities, lack of knowledge on reproductive health issues, etc.
Reports from Jane Goodall Institute Uganda, a conservation organisation, indicate that girls in the age bracket of 11-13 years leave school at the beginning of their menstrual cycles because they cannot afford to buy sanitary towels. They are forced to keep away from school to avoid the embarrassment caused by lack of proper hygiene kits for use during this time, as well as the limited awareness that this is a normal development phase in their lives.
Due to absenteeism, girls lose on average 25 per cent of their annual school time resulting into poor performance and repeating classes. This lowers their self-esteem and interest in education and they eventually drop out.
NGOs, through reproductive health programmes, have contributed significantly to the sensitisation of the girl child on the importance of education.
The Jane Goodall Institute has worked with parents and teachers in the districts of Bushenyi, Rubirizi, Kabarole, Kyenjojo, Masindi, Buliisa, Hoima, Moyo and Kyengegwa, and has trained girls on how to handle sexual reproductive health challenges, supported girls with sanitary towels, underwear and scholastic materials.
With such interventions, initial steps have been taken in the reduction of school dropouts in these areas. During the course of implementation of their activities with schools, Jane Goodall Institute also learnt that girls need more than just sanitary towels. Some of the girls could not use the sanitary towels distributed because they lacked underwear. The Jane Goodall Institute has since come up with a hygiene kit for the girls that consists of necessary sanitary materials such as pads, underwear, soap as well as a school bag, which the girls use to keep a sanitary material for use while at school.
There is need for the government of Uganda to intervene and support the cause of such NGOs in implementing these programmes, especially in rural Universal Primary Education schools.