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Using evidence to improve menstrual hygiene management

Published on: 22/08/2014

Menstrual hygiene management is of critical importance for school going girls. Last week in Kampala a conference on menstrual hygiene management aimed to break the silence and move towards solutions. One of the drivers of the conference was a study undertaken by IRC and SNV Uganda.

On August 14th and 15th, government agencies, civil society and private sector representatives came together to discuss the importance of menstrual hygiene management in schools and what can be done both at the level of policies and practical improvements. One of the sources of evidence on the issues and challenges around menstrual hygiene management in schools was a study undertaken in 2011-2012 by IRC and SNV Uganda.

This pilot research study investigated the impact of menstrual hygiene on girls in schools in seven districts in which SNV works. It's findings were primarily aimed for the Ministry of Education and Sports and the National Sanitation Working Group. In Uganda, the results of this study were used to provide evidence-based advocacy on the role of 'upper primary' girls, from the ages of 13-18, whom have started menstruating, with a specific emphasis placed on the issues and challenges that they face at school.

The main objective of the study was to understand (a) the impact of menstrual management on girls in school; (b) the role that schools play in menstrual management; and (c) identify possible next steps on improving menstrual management from national policy to activities at school.

Marielle Snel of IRC, presented the findings of the study at the conference and also highlighted evidence on menstrual hygiene management from other studies. Her presentation is available below.

Highlights from the IRC/SNV study include the following:

  1. Missing school: About 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, or up to 11% school days missed because of menstrual periods;
  2. Impact of menstruation on girls: Over 60% of the girl pupils absent themselves from school during their period;
  3. Inadequate menstrual facilities at schools: 70% of the head teachers and 80% of the senior head teachers stated that they are not satisfied with menstrual facilities at their schools;
  4. Menstrual pads: Over 50% of the senior women teachers confirmed that there is no provision for menstrual pads to school girls;
  5. Keeping girls in school: Over 60% of the girl pupils stated that they need better facilities (hardware, such as private toilets, washing and changing facilities). In addition, issues around sensitization of boy pupils, and the role of the senior woman teacher were also cited as important for keeping girls in school.

This conference is the first dedicated to menstrual hygiene management in Uganda. It draws on lessons from East Africa and beyond and its deliberations are also relevant internationally for learning how to to address menstrual hygiene at school, reduce absenteeism and help girls reach their full potential. The Ministry of Education has taken an important step forward by developing a reader to teach primary school girls how to manage their menstrual periods, in a bid to reduce the number of school drop outs. The reader titled "Understanding and managing Menstruation," was officially launched at the conference by the State Minister of Primary Health, Sarah Opendi.

In a move to encourage girls in rural schools to stay in school after puberty, several organisations have engaged in the production and distribution of reusable and low-cost sanitary pads.

The conference proceedings contain the papers presented at the conference and the keynote speeches by government dignitaries. The close involvement and commitments by the Ugandan government as well as the media coverage generated (including articles in The Observer Uganda, New Vision and the Daily Monitor) indicates that indeed the conference has managed to start breaking the silence on menstrual hygiene management.

 

Written with inputs from Marielle Snel

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