Without access to reproductive health education and proper supplies, teen girls are too often forced to stay home from school during their menstrual period. They tend to miss 3-5 days every month. The resultant absenteeism leads to a critical loss of study time, thus falling back and struggling to catch up with the rest of the class. Many times older girls just drop out of school. A girl in P6 stated, “Boys used to laugh at me and I decided to stay home whenever my periods started.” Girls’ absence from school has both physical and psychological repercussions which range from a lack of hygiene provisions to issues to do with menstruation. It has been perceived as a shameful subject to discuss and deal with not only for the adolescent girls but also for some parents and teachers.

These girls are mostly from poorer communities where access to sanitary resources is difficult. For many of these stricken families, the purchase of sanitary pads is expensive and difficult thus receives less priority when compared to other house hold items and needs such as food. As a result of this, the girls are exposed to the risk of infection due to the use of unhygienic alternatives such as rags, leaves and papers. As well there is a lack of educational resources to inform them about the normalcy of their period and safe, sanitary hygienic practices. Entrenched superstitions, patriarchal beliefs and taboos about a girl’s status and place in society causes undeserved shame as periods have long been associated with “dirt, disgust and impurity.” Exclusions from daily activities negatively impact the girls’ dignity and self-esteem.

When a girl child is kept in school, it’s less likely that she will experience child marriage, face domestic abuse and to suffer from long term health complications. Proper information and encouragement also reduces the number of unwanted teen pregnancy. Keeping girls in school is not only important for their own health and well-being, but for the success of the entire community and it is for this reason that Shadows of a Child reached out to pupils of Ekitangaala Primary school in Nakasongola. As part of our efforts, Shadows of a Child distributed menstrual hygiene material and taught girls how to manage their periods so they feel confident about taking care of themselves. Interactive sessions with both male and female pupils and staff members were held to break down the taboos and misconceptions around menstruation; to show the girls love and support and reassure them that what they are experiencing is normal and to encourage girls to fully participate in all aspects of school and society even while on their period. Sharing the out-house type of toilets with boys is extremely uncomfortable for girls. It is also a health hazard for everyone. SOC met with the school administration and encouraged them to consider investing more in proper facilities like toilets, urinals and changing rooms to provide privacy and safe, clean facilities. We are continuing in our efforts to help achieve this goal. A sustainable solution envisioned by Shadows of a Child is to teach the girls how to make re-usable pads from easily attainable material and to educate them in how to keep them clean. If they can do this, the worry about not having needed supplies is gone… Because of this support the girl child’s growth and development is nurtured and they will have an opportunity to continue on to their full potential and a thriving future.