• Heather Taylor

Girls Fairer Futures

When you’re a girl of 11 or 12 years old, life suddenly gets more complicated, and potentially embarrassing. Teen magazines are littered with stories of awkward period moments - when that time of the month comes at the wrong time or measures taken to keep things under wraps catastrophically fail!

But what if getting your period meant that you couldn’t go to school?

In Northern Uganda and Tanzania this can be a reality. With no way to afford disposable tampons or pads, many girls are forced to stay at home and miss four to five days of school each month. In places where the school drop-out rate for girls is high, this is an early and important factor as it leads to many girls getting behind and dropping out of school.

The Acholi Girls Fairer Future (AGFF) Team has been tackling this problem since 2014, supported by Emmanuel International UK. The team visits primary schools to teach about menstrual periods; encouraging and instructing the girls. Each girl is provided with four washable pads, made by a local tailor, and four pairs of underwear.

In every school, all the girls of 12 years and over are invited to join the team’s sessions. The group can number from 40 to 140 depending on the size of the school. The smaller schools away from the towns and main roads are prioritised, since they are in the poorest communities.

In a typical group of 60 girls, 40 will have started their periods but only around 9 are wearing underwear. In the UK, Australia or Canada, disposable pads and underwear are the norm, freely available and relatively affordable. In rural Northern Uganda, however, most people are on a very low income and exist mainly outside the cash economy. A girl cannot just ask her father for money for pads, and children simply do not have money of their own. The girls manage their periods by staying home for four or five days. Unless they are unusually bright and determined, they fall behind and are seen as dim by their teachers and parents. When it comes to which children should get their school fees paid, the parents usually choose a son before a daughter for cultural reasons. If the daughter’s school report is poor, then the decision is even easier to make.

The Acholi Girls Fairer Future project aims to do just that – provide a fairer future by helping girls stay in school and receive the education they so badly need for a better future, for themselves, their children and their community.

Joan, a P6 student at Agago Army, Uganda

“Before [the AGFF project brought] the pads I was missing school, but now I cannot miss school. Every day I am in the class very early in the morning when the teacher starts lessons.”

Joan, a P6 student at Agago Army

“Since we received the information and the pads we are able to participate in class work and other work well without fear, and games, so I can finish P7 without any problem, and when girls who don’t come to school any more hear about the pads being provided, some will return to school.”

P7 Ugandan schoolgirl

In 2019, the AGFF project provided reusable sanitary pads and knickers to 2,914 girls in 19 schools, bringing the total reach to 22,960 girls over the last five years. At this point, the team is not expanding the total number of schools in the catchment area, which remains at 102 schools, but are revisiting past schools to continue to provide for the new girls who are reaching menstrual age.

The cost per girl is about £2.50 and this includes all material, transport, labour, teaching time. The pads and underwear will last them for at least a year with reasonable care.

A similar project will be launched in the Mwanza region of Tanzania and will be called “Nguvu na Hadhi” (Strength and Dignity). These two menstrual pad projects will be the recipients of any funds donated in the UK in conjunction with the Pacific Giants Row.

You can support the Girls Fairer Future health project by donating online (scan the QR code on your smartphone or visit tinyurl.com/yyf3adon) or visit the EIUK website for details on other ways to donate (www.eiuk.org.uk/ways-to-give).