A study released in 2014 showed that girls in rural Uganda missed an average of eight school days each term because of their periods — that’s roughly 11 percent of the overall school year itself. Compounding the problem is the resistant cultural stigma surrounding menstruation, in which women and girls on their periods are considered dirty or untouchable. Bullying becomes a huge problem for many young women. In some regions, women are even outcast and barred from social interaction. For years, organizations like UNICEF and the United Nations have struggled to find ways to address the problem and bring attention to the issue. Thankfully, the public is starting to listen.
Earlier this year, Assistant Regional Representative Emma Beattie (UK-North) came up with a novel way to help: By joining up with a group of peers from the Northern Coast of Ireland and pairing with the nonprofit initiative I Am Girl (founded by the group Fields of Life), Emma and her friends were able to use Random Acts funding to assemble packs of reusable sanitary towels, underwear, soap and wash bags for the young women of rural Uganda. Together in June this year, the group traveled to the East African nation to deliver the packs in person.
“A staggering 71 percent of girls in Uganda drop out of school before they complete their primary education,” Emma wrote after the trip. “There’s still major stigma and embarrassment linked to menstruation — giving support and providing quality education about menstruation is crucial.”
In addition to handing out the packs, Emma and her fellow volunteers spent much of their time offering important advice on safe and healthy sanitary practices and instructing the girls on how to keep their clothes clean during their periods — a huge shift from the methods many girls were using before (dried leaves, dirty rags, and cut-up tee shirts).
Overall, said Emma, the trip was a “huge success.” She added that similar continued efforts could conceivably prompt more young women and girls stay in school in the future. “Hopefully, [this sort of movement] will enable girls in Uganda to continue in their education uninterrupted.”
Image: I Am Girl/Emma Beattie