Did you know that nearly a quarter of Ugandan girls between the ages of 12 and 18 drop out of school when they begin menstruation? School absenteeism rises to 28% when girls in Uganda are on their period compared to 8% during non-period days (Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2023)
What is Period Poverty?
Across Africa, and the world, a lack of access to menstrual products due to high costs or because they're not available in remote areas has had a huge impact on millions of women. Studies in different regions and countries reveal that thousands of girls miss many days of education every year because they're on their period (BBC, 2023).
Period poverty is the lack of access to period products for girls living in poverty, something that is an immense struggle for girls in Kampala. “If nothing is done to end period poverty in Uganda, the country will struggle to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030”, warned John Chrysostom Muyingo, Uganda’s state minister for higher education. Addressing the lack of access to menstrual health education and period products plays a crucial role in achieving several of the 17 SDGs, from good health and quality education to gender equality and access to water and sanitation for all (Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2023).
The United Nations reports that globally, stigma, taboos and misinformation surrounding menstruation causes girls to miss educational and occupational opportunities. There is a large body of qualitative research that shows girls in Africa miss school during menstruation and have identified a range of barriers to school attendance and engagement (Somer et al, 2015). In extreme cases some girls opt out of school because of how difficult it is to manage their cycle each month. The stigma attached to menstruation, with the inability to afford period products, stops girls from attending school, putting them more at risk of entering child marriages, experiencing an early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications.
Like other inequalities, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated poor menstrual hygiene and health. Irise International’s research demonstrated the decline in household incomes and increased prices of disposable pads caused by the pandemic increased period poverty, pushing more girls into vulnerable positions unable to afford period products.
Since 2021 we have worked hard to address period poverty in Uganda, by making period products accessible to girls and women each month, and providing education on menstrual health and hygiene. So far in 2023 alone we have distributed over 5,000 free period products. We also run support groups for girls that focus on talking about issues such as: early and forced marriage, teenage pregnancy, health, sex education and personal security. From engaging with these groups we’ve learned they provide girls with a safe space to discuss ideas, ask difficult questions and receive emotional support.
This year we have so far held 282 group sessions across 10 communities with up to 589 girls attending across a quarter. In the most recent quarter, we distributed period products to 355 girls. Our team in Uganda also held 108 Girls Support Group Sessions this quarter for teenage girls which included counselling, communication skills, and fun craft sessions which involved making liquid soap and candles. By opening the doors for conversations on periods and providing period products we're helping minimise the pressures of period poverty for hundreds of girls in Kampala each month
You can have a direct impact and support girls in vulnerable situations in Uganda by donating to our projects. Alternatively, you can sign up to our newsletter to receive monthly updates from our projects in Uganda.
Menstrual Hygiene Day (2023) Uganda Must Tackle Period Poverty to Achieve SDGs, Education Ministry Warns | MHDay (menstrualhygieneday.org)
Sommer M, Ackatia-Armah N, Connolly S, et al.. A comparison of the menstruation and education experiences of girls in Tanzania, Ghana, Cambodia and Ethiopia. Comp J Comp Int Educ. 2015;45(4):589–609. [Google Scholar]