We need to talk about periods. And not the much-loved punctuation, but the big red elephant in the room.
And while hardly dinner-table conversation, periods have a dramatic and yet under-discussed impact on health, education, and conservation in the developing world.
For starters, sanitary pads are expensive, and in rural communities like many areas of Uganda, they’re hard to come by. And without easy access to private toilets, washrooms, and sanitation facilities to dispose of pads, periods can be difficult to manage at school. As a result, girls find it difficult to go to school once they reach puberty. In rural Uganda, girls miss up to 8 days of school each month. When a girl misses school because of her period, it puts her behind her male classmates by upwards of 145 days (cumulatively) and that’s if she opts to stay in school, which most do not.
Uganda currently has the third highest population growth rate in the world (3.3%). The country’s explosive population growth has not only strained infrastructure, but increases pressure -- both legal and illegal -- on the country’s natural resources, including forests and wildlife. Evidence shows that educated girls and women delay sex and marriage, and are more likely to use contraceptives, which collectively leads to smaller and more sustainable families, and ultimately reduces population growth. And these are in addition to the many positive impacts on economic growth and incomes, health, and productivity -- benefits so numerous the Brookings Institution characterizes girls' education as "the world's best investment with the widest-ranging returns."
In 2015, a team of Oxford University researchers tested the impacts of providing reusable sanitary pads (RUMPS) and puberty education on school attendance in rural villages in east-Central Uganda (see link below). Across the study region, girls’ attendance rates dropped as they started to get their periods, but for those girls provided with either pads, education or both, the drop was far less dramatic -- a nearly 20% difference!. The evidence is clear: Compared to doing nothing, simple interventions like RUMPs and education can have a substantial effect on girls’ education outcomes.
To help fill the gap in communities around Kibale, The Kasiisi Project’s outstanding health team not only leads sessions on menstruation and hygiene, but also trains both girls and boys, as well as their teachers, on how to make low-cost, reusable menstrual pads out of fabric. And they're sharing these skills within their communities. We're also working to ensure that our 16 partner schools have an adequate number of separate girls, boys and teachers' toilets, water points, and sanitation/wash facilities. These efforts support our broader goal of creating safe and healthy school environments where children -- both boys and girls -- can focus on learning.