Friday, March 12, 2010

A Bit More Background

Education, especially of the girl-child and woman, is widely regarded as the best investment that most developing countries can make. Not only does it open up choices and opportunities, education is associated with better health outcomes individually and as a family, resulting in better nutrition and fewer deaths among mothers and children. Preparing young girls for success in school is paramount to achieving health and success in an increasingly global community. Indeed, girls without an education will be greatly disadvantaged in the future and will struggle with maximizing their potential as adults.

Once young girls in school begin their menstruation, many drop out due to lack of access to sanitary pads and inadequate school sanitation and hygiene facilities to meet their needs. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2005) estimates that one in 10 school-age African girls do not attend school during their menstruation or drop out after menstruation begins because of the lack of clean and private sanitation facilities in schools. Few schools have any emergency sanitary supplies for girls. Communal toilet facilities are not suitable for changing sanitary pads given the lack of water and sanitary material disposal systems. One study in Uganda found that one in three girls missed all or part of a school day during their menstrual cycle.

The Problem:

1) Many girls drop out of school due to absenteeism during their menstrual cycle.

2) High rates of urinary tract infections (UTIs) result from poor hygiene supplies and improper hygiene education.

3) Because of poverty, women lack an ability to continually care properly for themselves and their family during menstruation.

Women waiting in line at a clinic because of chronic UTIs.

The Forum of African Women Educationalists, Uganda (FAWE U) calculated that to cover their sanitary protection needs at market prices, girls must find ways of justifying a recurrent expenditure of at least 2,000 Ugandan shillings (just over US$1) every month. Such costs are prohibitive to a poor family where the household income is an average 20,000 shillings (about US $10) a month. As FAWE Uganda states, ‘Buying sanitary protection means a monthly spending equivalent of four radio batteries or enough paraffin to last a family one month. Where men most often control the household budget, how can girls succeed in getting sanitary materials on to the priority list? What is worse, where sanitary protection for one girl may cost around a tenth of a monthly family income, how can a household afford this where there are two or three girls?’

A recent study done by Linda Scott of Oxford's Said Business School demonstrates that menstruation is a significant barrier precluding Ghanaian girls from school, and that free menstrual supplies given to secondary school girls have been proven effective in overcoming that barrier. The study found that girls who were given pads reduced absenteeism from 21 percent to 9 percent. Scott stated:

"We think this problem is going to surface–and the effect of the intervention felt–throughout the developing world. What creates the underlying problem is, as I am sure you know, the fact that the community does not recognize the value of female education to begin with, second, that the topic is not talked about, and third, that there is an assumption that whatever method the mother or grandmother used should suffice (though neither of them probably went to school). Some in international aid have a reaction that might be summarized as “this is a trivial thing–why are we wasting our time talking about feminine napkins?” It is my hope that through this work, and any press attention to it, we can change the dismissive attitudes that some aid professionals have toward the problem.”

The Grow Learn Give Solution:

1) Provide hygiene supplies, reusable pads and patterns to continually supply women throughout their reproductive life.

2) Provide proper health education materials and lesson plans to teach others.

3) Provide the sewing machines and skills to sustain the supply.

To complement the kits, we have created educational booklets for the instruction of women and girls regarding their hygiene and the changes that occur during puberty.We intend to use the educational materials in concert with the hygiene kits, in order to empower the women and girls not only with tools, but also with knowledge. To see the materials, click on Hygiene or Menstruation Booklet (Pilot) on the right-hand side of this blog under "Pages."

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