Did you know that in many parts of the world, the start of menstruation can result in adolescent girls dropping out of school? Why is that and what can be done to help adolescent girls stay in school?
In sub-Saharan Africa nearly 40% of adolescent girls are out of school. Overcoming barriers to girls’ education and helping them reach their full potential ensures that girls remain in school longer, reduces rates of child marriage and maternal mortality, and helps communities to thrive.
That's why it's an important milestone that the Canadian Government has committed to increasing support of women, adolescents, children and newborns around the world over the next 10 years.
"This decision is an opportunity for Canada to champion the rights of the millions of women and children who struggle every day for even the most basic health care support," said Rowena Pinto, Chief Program Officer at UNICEF Canada. "World leaders must understand that providing girls with access to quality health care starting from birth is essential to achieving gender equality."
UNICEF Canada is similarly committed to changing the lives of girls by removing the barriers to education, as part of UNICEF's global mandate towards realizing the rights of all children. With this goal in mind, UNICEF Canada launched the UNdaunted campaign, which raises funds for girls’ education in sub Saharan Africa
One of the four countries the UNdaunted campaign is currently active in is Uganda, where UNICEF Canada is working to help remove barriers to education for girls and young women, as well as educating students – boys and girls – about menstrual hygiene management.
Staying in School Against All Odds
Gloria is a vibrant 16 year-old high school student in Uganda. Through a dramatic skit, performed in front of her classmates, she shows how boys would tease her and other girls at school when their periods caused them to bleed through their uniforms. Because of this teasing – and the stigmas around periods – many girls ultimately drop out of school because they are too embarrassed and afraid to return. Others miss school a week every month and then fall so far behind in their studies that they feel they could never catch up.
However, despite facing challenges posed by her period, Gloria is incredibly motivated to continue with school. The creation of health clubs for boys and girls, led by specially trained teachers, allow students like Gloria to find a safe and welcoming space. They get advice on managing their periods, how to stay healthy and supportive of each other, as well as working to remove stigmas around menstruation. Now that Gloria has a safe space to go and talk to her peers, she feels respected and she stays in school. These clubs are the software: the way we are changing the hearts and minds of communities to help them better support girls to stay in school.
WASH (Water, Sanitation and Health)
But the software is not enough to support girls to stay in school. We also need the hardware – something many Canadian students might take for granted.
In certain communities and schools in Uganda, UNndaunted is funding the construction of new solar powered water pumps, water taps for the students (as well as a separate one for the community ), accessible latrines including a washroom that allows girls to wash and change their pads with dignity, and a hand washing station. Not only are all these new constructions or renovations benefiting the boys and girls in these schools, but the health clubs allow the boys to develop an understanding of why such changes are necessary to help girls stay in school.
Job, a 12-year-old boy and health club co-chair, says “because we have the latrines for girls, the washroom and the reusable pads, girls can now stay in school and it’s more fun when we have more girls.”
A Future of Bigger and Brighter Possibilities
With the software and hardware being put in place, more students can stay healthy, and more girls will be supported to manage their periods and stay in school. Thanks to UNICEF Canada’s projects in Uganda, menstruation is no longer seen as something that just girls and women have to manage but instead is viewed as a community problem that requires a community solution. This is an important change and one that with continued support will lead to a future of brighter possibilities for girls.
Help provide clean sanitation to schools around the world with the gift of a toilet from UNICEF Canada Survival Gifts.