Kampala, Uganda – A couple of weeks before I arrived in Uganda, local news media published several stories about the increasing rate of girls dropping out of school because they don’t have access to sanitary pads.
Build Africa, a non-governmental organization, hosted a symposium to discuss the problem after a survey came out that said about 30 percent of girls leave school because they don’t have sanitary pads. NGOs and educators are increasingly concerned that, in a country that is trying to equalize women’s status in society, girls will not be successful because their education suffers from a lack of basic hygiene products. Girls re-use rags that aren’t fully clean or they use banana leaves or mud – all of which can cause severe bacterial infections. From some girls, the infections could affect their ability to have children, and in a country where having children essentially defines a woman’s worth, the threat upsets many people.
Cost is perhaps the biggest barrier. If a sanitary pad cost about 1,500 shillings each (about 60 cents) yet a mother cannot afford to feed her children, you can see where the priority ends up. About 80 percent of Uganda’s population lives in rural areas where the poverty rate is exceptionally high. Catherine Abalo, of Build Africa, said Ugandan society needs to sanitary pads as a right, not a luxury.
Parliamentary Member Rose Seninde said last week her government needs to step up. ““If the government distributes condoms free of charge, why shouldn’t they do the same for sanitary pads?”
But the issue doesn’t affect only school girls. During a Parliamentary session yesterday, MPs passed a motion to force the Ugandan government to allot money for female prisoners to have access to sanitary pads. Many of these prisoners are not receiving pads while in prison, which leaves many of them desperately seeking leaves and grass while on work projects. Some women have died from the infections they contract from using such means during their menstrual cycles.
“It seems the people in government don’t understand how horrible it is for female prisoners to bleed and pick leaves and grass in desperation,” MP Alice Alaso said in a discussion about the government’s budget.
This is not a particularly new issue that Ugandan women have had to deal with, but in the last couple of years the problem has gained international exposure. If you’re interested in donating money to help one of the many organizations that provide sanitary pads to women in Uganda, do an Internet search.