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Vision and leadership taking place around menstrual hygiene management in Uganda

Published on: 06/03/2015

Globally we see a new movement focusing on "breaking the silence" around menstrual hygiene management. Menstrual hygiene has a serious impact on the education, health and dignity of women and girls. We cannot talk about universal education and services for all without addressing this topic. 

By Marielle Snel (Programme Officer- IRC HQ) and Lydia Mirembe Ssenyonjo (Communication & Knowledge Management Officer - IRC Uganda)

Worldwide, approximately 50% of girls and women are of reproductive age. Most of these women and school girls will menstruate each month for between two and seven days, for at least thirty years of their life. New data show that the world is still unlikely to fulfil one of the most modest commitments: to get every child in school by 2015. More than 57 million children continue to be denied the right to primary education, and many of them will probably never enter a classroom (UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2013). Part of this disparity is attributed to a lack of separate WASH facilities at schools, especially for girls during menstruation age.

Particularly in Uganda, there has been a great effort to focus more on menstrual hygiene management. In July – August 2012, SNV and IRC carried out a pilot action research entitled "Study on menstrual management in Uganda", funded by Austrian Aid. The study, conducted in selected schools in seven districts, found that on average, over 57% of schoolgirls aged 11-13 absent themselves from school due to menstrual-related challenges. The study found that around half of the girl pupils in the study report missing 1-3 days of primary school per month. This translates into a loss of 8 to 24 school days per year. This means per term a girl pupil may miss up to 8 days of study. On average, there are 220 learning days in a year and missing 24 days a year translates into 11% of the time a girl pupil will miss learning due to menstrual periods. The study revealed a clear lack of sustainable menstrual hygiene management support, from basics such as suitable facilities to psychological support for girls dealing with menstruation. One key means of keeping girls in primary school is the provision of better menstrual management materials and facilities. If not addressed properly menstrual hygiene management will not only lead to more girls missing school, but can potentially cause an increase in the number of girls dropping out of school altogether.

In August 2014, the first ever menstrual hygiene management conference was held in Kampala, Uganda which brought together over 200 delegates from among water, sanitation and hygiene practitioners in Uganda, across Africa and beyond. Delegates came from  NGOs, the private sectors as well as government. The conference theme: "Break the silence on menstruation; keep girls in school" has since resonated in the key developments around MHM. First, a motion on menstrual hygiene was tabled in Parliament in November 2014. This was followed, in the beginning of this year, by the directive of the Ministry of Education and Sports, requiring schools to provide girls with sanitary pads. The ongoing review of the school health policy also provides an opportunity to address MHM more decisively. The mainstream media have also kept MHM on the public agenda, by constantly providing ample space for its coverage, particularly in the education sections. It would appear then that MHM in schools is clearly being prioritized in Uganda. But is this truly really the case?

We see a clear political statement being made but the question is if there is sincere funding available for MHM in schools. This, however, does not to detract from this important step that has been taken by government.

Reflecting on key steps that need to be undertaken around supporting MHM (in line with WASH in schools) we can say that at national level:

  1. the critical role of leadership from government is required to take forward MHM within the context of WASH in schools;
  2. the crucial element of having public finances that support the MHM motion put in place (at local school level);
  3. and finally the importance of focusing on MHM not only in terms of hardware (e.g. washrooms with clean water and soap for girls who may need to change either clothes, emergency menstrual pads, etc.) but also the software aspect (e.g. hygiene behaviour on how best to take care of themselves when menstruating).

In other words, reflect on MHM in a holistic manner rather than simply a one sided issue of focusing on hardware alone.

In the next blog in this series, another question will be focused on namely how do we continue to support our MHM efforts in Uganda but also globally.

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