Honor your Campaign Pledge Mr. President: Pads For Girls.

Published: Saturday, 08 July 2017

“BE BOLD FOR CHANGE” was the theme for Women’s Day 2017 and is our clarion call for the year. For many girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in Uganda, menstruation means no school. This is because they cannot afford sanitary pads. Monthly absenteeism for a week or so causes them to lag behind and the eventual loss of interest in school. This is further evidence of higher school drop-out rates of girls at puberty. 

pulbSome people have been wondering why the fuss. They argue that since time immemorial, pads have not been distributed to girls for free and nobody has died! What they don’t seem to realize is the use of local materials such as rugs and pieces of cloth, leaves and feathers are not only ineffective but uncomfortable and unhygienic. These materials at times cause infections which may lead to cervical cancer, among other diseases. During that time of the month some girls and women have to sit for hours and days on sand in order to soak up the blood and this, inevitably, limits their movement apart from making them less productive.

Being at school calls for a girl to sit in class for long hours, concentrating and not worried that she will be the laughing stock if she gets up with a ‘map’ at the back of her dress. A natural process that symbolizes life should not be a curse or a source of humiliation. While they quietly suffer these humiliations, their counterparts, the boys, go on month after month unfazed by this particular encumbrance yet the girls are expected to sit the same exams.

There is no need to repeat the overwhelming research on the merits, benefits and multiplier effects of educating girls. In summary, one can highlight the adage that: ‘When you educate a woman, you educate a nation” and there is evidence to prove that the level of a country’s development directly correlates with its gender equality status, a variable that squarely hinges on girls’ education as its master key. 

All efforts must therefore be engaged to make this monthly experience for girls and women a normal, comfortable and dignified part of life. A packet of eight imported disposable pads costs UGX 3,000 (USD 0.83). However, there are local innovations in Uganda that are addressing this challenge and are producing both re-usable and disposable pads by utilizing locally available materials and at cheaper prices. 

Tusitukirewamu Women’s Group (Tusi), a community based organization in Bwaise slums, on the outskirts of Kampala, has one such initiative. Florence Musuliya, the Executive Director of Tusi noted that Awamu pads (shown in the first picture) are made from locally available materials consisting of soft cotton cloth, cotton wool, gauze and plastic paper. The re-usable sanitary pad can last for over 2 years and costs UGX 1,000 (USD 0.27). After use, the Awamu pad is washed with soap and water, rinsed in salty water and hang up to dry overnight, ready for re-use in the morning. The pads can be tailored or hand sewn. Tusi, a member organization of Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Association (DENIVA) has trained a number of girls on making Awamu pads in Bwaise and in the districts of Arua, Gulu, Mityana and Pallisa in Uganda. 

Maka pads are yet another innovation by Dr. Musaazi of Makerere University. Maka pads are made out of papyrus and paper waste. They are disposable and a packet of 10 costs UGX 1,500 (USD 0.42), half the price of imported sanitary pads. They have a high absorption capacity, are biodegradable, and so do not clog up toilets. Moreover, they are made without any harmful chemicals and therefore do not cause itchiness of the skin unlike most imported brands .

It is not to too late for the government to redeem itself and honor the campaign pledge to provide sanitary pads for girls in subsequent national budgets. All it takes is the political will and commitment to people-centered development. This could be done by subsidizing the locally made pads such as the Awamu pad and Mak Pads and can therefore be procured at very affordable prices. Taxes on imported pads can also be removed or reduced so that they are affordable to the ordinary female in Uganda. Pads can also be purchased in bulk and distributed to girls and in schools as back-up in case girls need them in the time of emergency. Also important is the need to re-introduce comprehensive sex education in school that includes a module on menstruation and hygiene. 

The #pads4girlsUg campaign started by Dr. Stella Nyanzi provides each girl one packet of disposable pads (8 pads), one pair of re-usable pads (2 pads) and a booklet on menstrual hygiene. Contributions can be made to Pads for Uganda: via mobile money +2561824117. https://www.gofundme.com/padsforuganda.

Tusitukirewamu means ‘United we Stand……” And indeed, this is a time for Ugandans to focus and unite around what really matters, so that we can be bold for change!

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