A Call for Sanitary Pads in School

Published: Saturday, 08 July 2017

India has discovered one key magic bullet to end poverty: the provision of sanitary pads for girls! As a matter of policy, the government of India provides one packet of sanitary pads every month to every needy girl in school. This best practice, among others, was started three years ago to ensure attendance, performance and retention of girls in school. As a result, the country is reaping multiple benefits from this deliberate investment. 

India has a population of 1.3 billion people and GDP per capita of 1,752 US dollars. On the other hand, Uganda has a population of 40 million people, and a GDP per capita of 1,738 US dollars. As such, the two countries have a nearly similar GDP per capita (national income divided by population), thus making it fair to compare them on other development indicators.

The Executive Director DENIVA - Catherine Kanabahita during the visit

An astonishing one would, for example, be the wide gap between the school drop-out rate of girls estimated at over 50% in Uganda as compared to India's which is at about 20%, according to the online UNICEF Report (2015). It begs the question as to whether it is because the latter has done a much better job of providing sanitary pads to their school going girls, among other factors. 

It has been proven that girls' education and women’s empowerment is one of the major contributors and catalysts to poverty reduction. This is because an educated woman has a higher chance of employment, has a smaller and healthier family and she ensures that her children get a good education. No doubt, within an educated woman lies the potential and secret to ending poverty. For this reason, progressive nations have embraced this concept and have done all it takes to keep girls in school. The provision of sanitary pads to girls in school is one such commitment.

India is also making headway in catering for teenage girls who do not go to school, a commendable recognition that they, too, deserve to live a healthy, productive and dignified life. Through its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding, Amway, a private company, is working in partnership with Deepalaya, a local NGO based in New Delhi, to provide support for the local production of affordable sanitary pads. Deepalaya used part of a grant to purchase equipment worth USD 5,000 to support a group of six girls to make sanitary pads. The pads are then sold at 30 rupees (USD 0.50 or UGX 1,800), which is half the price of commercially manufacture ones, and this has made it possible for even the very poor to afford pads.

The six girls produce a total of 200 Sangiri pads per day. Sangiri means “a girl’s friend”. This has not only provided affordable pads for the community, it has also provided new skills to the girls involved in their production. It has also created jobs and income for the sales team of youth and women in the wider community. Deepalaya has also used the sanitary pads channel to sensitize the community about sexual and reproductive health and rights. Plans are underway to scale up this initiative based on a partnership between NGOs and the Private Sector, by using CSR funds. 

Indian ladies at work making the pads..

India is expected to be a middle income country by 2021 and will then exit the developing world category. It is inarguable that a major contributing factor for attaining that major milestone is the country's policy of keeping girls in school. Regardless of ongoing challenges in governance, religious conflicts and high population growth; India's economy will remain on the right track as long as the country keeps a firm focus on supporting girls’ education. 

The Global Standard for Civil Society Accountability, a project of nine organizations including Uganda’s Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA), currently meeting in New Delhi aims at creating a credible, legitimate and ethical civil society. The theme of Gender Equality and Women’s Rights is one of the 12 Commitments of the civil society standard being developed.

At national and international levels, this critical theme on women’s advancement has been underscored and reflected in Constitutions, National Plans, the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 5) to guide development. Translating these global commitments calls for concrete actions like ensuring that girls and boys access and complete education. For girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, this translates into provision of school fees, scholastic materials and, as shown above, the provision of sanitary pads.

India's well considered policy of educating girls while providing essential materials such as affordable sanitary pads is a best practice that Uganda should emulate if it hopes to continue on its path of economic growth. It is no wonder that there is an ever growing public demand for the government to fulfill its campaign promises, particularly the one concerning free distribution of sanitary pads to poor, school going girls. 

A campaign appropriately called #Pad4GirlsUganda is ongoing and getting more support as it becomes clearer to the wider public that this intervention is one of the answers for achieving the government's goal of "Poverty Reduction and Economic Growth for all”. One of the magic bullet to end poverty is available to Uganda just as it is demonstrably available to India: Support #Pad4GirlsUganda!

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