Thursday 6 May 2021
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It’s a girl thing: Menstruation and school attendance

Menstruation and poor sanitary product access affect girls’ school attendance. Recent attention has been drawn to possible linkages between poor sanitation in schools and low attendance rates among post-pubescent girls. In particular, questions have been raised about the influence of menstruation and access to sanitary products on schoolgirl absenteeism. Young girls continue to face difficulties in attending to their menstrual cycles, as they do not have the sanitary wear that is required to keep themselves hygienic.  This is a widespread challenge among girls, especially in rural areas where people can hardly afford the monthly purchase of such materials. While the issue remains an inevitable occurrence, little attention has so far been given to the matter.

Menstruation and poor sanitary product access have been largely cited as possible causes of schoolgirl absenteeism. Teachers in rural areas are concerned that government is able to distribute condoms to the public for free, while young girls miss school for up to a week even twice a month, as they go through their menstrual cycles. Some girls have reportedly resort to using unimaginable materials to fit the role of pads.

Ontoko Combined School life skills teacher Ms Amadhila, a contact person for the Sanicare project said “Teachers end up being responsible for these young girls, who experience periods at times during school hours. Imagine a girl child has to go around asking from one female teacher to the next knowing very well that her parents cannot afford to buy her these materials. But realistically speaking, one can only ask for so long, eventually they start thinking of alternatives.” Sanicare is an initiative of the Oxygen Foundation.

Hilda Basson-Namundjebo, founder of Oxygen Foundation expressed her concern on the lack of resonance by most people with girls that encounter these problems. She says the levels of ignorance are worrying, “among women especially, on the reality of this situation for many young girls.  The foundation aims at making people aware of the need for sanitary towels to firstly, become cheaper throughout the country, and secondly more accessible. It is only when we take this matter for the serious issue it is that we will ensure that our girls do not only have entry into school, but also stay in school. This action, in itself, is a significant part of according equal opportunity.” “It is absolutely inappropriate that in a country classified as upper-middle income, there are girls who cannot complete their education without disruption because of something as small as this. In Uganda, only 38 percent of girls entering Primary 1 (the equivalent of kindergarten) will graduate.

Why? Girls drop out of school when they hit puberty. 1 in 10 menstruating girls will skip four or five days of school each month, or drop out completely, because of ‘inconveniences’ during their periods,” read a statement by the Oxygen Foundation. It is understood that the provision of sanitary towels coupled with menstrual hygiene education in Namibia reduces girls’ absence from school. Most girls miss several learning days per month due to lack of funds to purchase sanitary pads. This impedes their ability to compete in the classroom, leads to low self-esteem, higher drop-out rates and, in many areas of Namibia, makes them vulnerable to early marriage.

Oxygen Foundation together with other stakeholders has, since December 2011, distributed sanitary pads to teenage girls who menstruate but do not have the needed materials.
Initiated by the then Namibian First Lady Penexupifo Pohamba as a means of extending a hand to charities, the programme is the only one of its kind and has exhibited consistency and growth over the years. The Sanicare project, that was initially concentrated on charities in the northern Namibia, has extended its reach to other regions including //Kharas, Hardap, Oshana, Khomas and Oshikoto, to mention a few. It currently covers mainly schools upon request through an established channel of communication with regional officials all the way to life skills teachers. In addition to providing sanitary pads to schools, the foundation has also been within the reach of orphanages and other charity homes.  A statement by Oxygen Communication said, “While we met and will continue to meet the request for assistance, we took the initiative to provide sanitary pads for an orphanage and a community outreach organisation named Tutekula Children Organization during the December and January period.” The foundation has targeted charity homes that provide support and care for school-going children.

The lack of sanitary wear has also been indirectly attributed to the increase in intergenerational – material-based relationships that have led to young girls in preventable arrangements and others who fall pregnant at very young ages.  “From the introduction of this programme and the behavioural lessons that come with it, girls’ patterns of conduct have improved. Most girls are now more aware of the responsibilities that come with puberty.

It is every teacher’s will to see their learners equipped with all such information and resources as they grow into adulthood.” Amadhila said. The necessity for an education system that considers these completely human eventualities has been a long since cry of stake holders and interest groups who argue that, in some cases, even when materials are available for the girls, they are not equipped with the information needed on the proper usage and disposal of pads and tampons. Another type of re-usable sanitary towel has been developed by the ‘Girl pads’ programme of Sister Namibia.

Oxygen Communications is a Strategic Communication firm that was established in 2006.  The company works with clients to implement and develop innovative ideas that enhance brand visibility. The foundation continues to invite groups and members of society to partner with in “furthering this good cause for the greater benefit of the Namibian girl child”.

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