By Lee Neary
“Smile Mission team with WORI (Women Rights initiative) Uganda in campaign to empower Wakiso District schoolgirls.”
As part of their recent Her Choice programme, Smile Mission’s alliance with WORI aims to tackle disenfranchisement surrounding sexual healthcare, women’s rights and menstrual hygiene in rural communities of central Ugandan.
Spearheaded by Smile Mission’s Brenda Karungi (22), the team will work alongside school management to educate adolescent girls how to produce affordable eco-friendly sanitary products.
“Poor Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is regarded as one of the major reasons for irregular school attendance a mongst Ugandan schoolgirls. “
Karungi affirmed when asked about the ramifications of not having a sustainable menstrual health system in place, “There is clear correlation between poor attendance – and poor grades. Many of the girls drop out of education altogether as consequence.”
“If a girl misses 4 days of school every 4 weeks due to her period, she will miss 10-20% of her school days.”
Indicative to a lack of sanitary facilities and hygiene education, disposable products are habitually strewn on streets.
Alternative methods can include makeshift materials such as: plant leaves, mattress stuffing, toilet paper, old cloths or even socks, to try and prevent potential embarrassment.
Such uncomfortable measures and stigmatization surrounding menstruation often impart feelings of shame within women. Many succumb to self-ostracization, isolating themselves from attending school or social interactions.
When available, disposable sanitary towels on the Ugandan market can cost approximately 2,500 UGX (€0.56), despite a waiver of VAT on imported pads. These expenses, based on provisions for one girl, can constitute to as much as 10% of a family’s household income.
“Girls face abhorrent ultimatums, leaving them vulnerable to sexual exploitation, or childhood marriage…”
In its 2005 report on hygiene and sanitation in Ugandan schools, the World Bank suggested that: if a girl misses 4 days of school every 4 weeks due to her period, she will miss 10-20% of her school days. However, girls in disenfranchised and impoverished regions of Uganda often miss up-to 5 days of school per month during their menstruation period.
“I’ve seen young girls resort to prostitution to support themselves financially, whether to provide themselves with sanitary pads or education.” Smile Mission chairman, Duncan Njuki, observed when reflecting on issues back in his home country, “Girls face abhorrent ultimatums, leaving them vulnerable to sexual exploitation, childhood marriage and not uncommonly sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies.”
Smile Back to School
14TH March 2019, Her Choice project organisers met with WORI campaigners for a crash course in how to craft Star Durable Pads. Created by WORI in April 2017, the initiative was designed in response to an urgent call for improvements in menstrual hygiene standards in Uganda. The pads eco-friendly and sustainable design allow users to wash and re-use a single pad for up to 5–7 months. Following use, the biodegradable products can be burned or buried without ethical concerns.
Share the Knowledge
15th March 2019, the Smile Mission team visited St Paul’s Primary School in Kitagobwa, Wakiso Distict in order to trial run the Her Choice project. “The girls did not want us to leave, they were so happy about the activity and to be learning.” stated Smile Mission’s head of ICT, Shadrack Bazatsinda, “Students requested that we visit their school again to take along more materials. The plan is to enable the girls who are good at sewing to be able to teach their friends as well.”