The call by women MPs to make mandatory provision of sanitary towels for all school girls under Universal Primary Education programme demands immediate action. This measure calls for support because it is necessary that our girls do not skip classes or drop out because of poor menstrual hygiene management.
We must all get concerned by the 2012 menstrual hygiene management survey that indicates six of 10 girls miss school for half a week every month during their menses because of fear of shame and lack of facilities to support them at school.
The stress is so bad that the few days of absences per month build into eight days of study in a school term and leaving school completely, according to the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and the International Water and Sanitation Centre that authored the report. This would mean girls, also pressured by domestic work, will not catch up on classwork but post lower grades and fail to compete favourably with the boys to realise their full potential and advancement.
This state of affairs is unacceptable as no girl must skip class or drop out of school because of her unique bodily functions. That is why it is important that the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association must swing their 180 plus numerical weight to win the bargain. The men should join the noble cause and cast off the shame of seeing our daughters and sisters skip school because of a burden not of their own making.
Government too has got to act now as it has a duty to ensure every Ugandan has a right to education, and girls’ rights must be prioritised as enshrined in Article 30 of the Constitution. And what is more, schoolgirls have rights to claim in this issue as Article 33(2) tasks government “to provide the facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them realise their full potential and advancement.” And education is the girls’ best bet to that goal, and lack of only sanitary pads must not stand in their way.
Let us all support Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and women’s rights activists to push this proposal for adoption by government, which should provide adequate water, washrooms, pain killers for cramps, and sanitary pads for the girls. This is a constitutional demand provided for under Education objectives, and requires the State takes appropriate measures to afford every citizen equal opportunity to attain their highest educational standard possible.
Government can do this by dropping taxes on sanitary pads and supporting, for instance, AFRIpads, which makes menstrual kits, to supply low-cost sanitary towels for schoolgirls. This will limit absenteeism and dropout.
Improved access to menstrual hygiene management is essential for all school girls.