Leaders in West Nile recently raised alarm over the worrying rate at which girls are dropping out of school. During a girl-child education conference organised by the Aga Khan Foundation in Arua District, educationists asked some key questions: Why are girls dropping out of school? What can the community do to change the trend and guarantee a better future for the girl-child?
The district education statistics for West Nile shows that Yumbe is estimated to have the highest dropout rate for girls – with four out of 10 annually followed by Maracha with three out of 10 yearly. There are various reasons for this, including early pregnancy or marriage, but a key factor that has been highlighted is menstrual hygiene management.
These concerns are not unique to West Nile. According to a 2012 national menstrual hygiene management survey, six out of 10 girls miss school for half a week every month during their menses because of lack of hygienic facilities at school. A 2014 report by the Education ministry, ‘Keeping girls in school: A comprehensive approach by Ministry of Education and Sports’, notes that menstruation highly contributes to school dropout, absenteeism and low completion rates for girls in Uganda. Unicef estimates that about 23 per cent of adolescents drop out of school after they begin menstruating.
The concerns raised at the Aga Khan Foundation workshop came at the time when the NRM presidential candidate Yoweri Museveni, who toured the West Nile sub-region last week, promised that pupils and students could from next financial year get free sanitary towels.
Mr Museveni’s proposal, while important for proper menstrual hygiene management for school-going girls, should, however, also address the salient issues in the Education ministry’s guidelines on menstrual hygiene policy. Early this year, the ministry issued a guideline on menstrual hygiene management in schools as a key issue that affects the retention and performance of girls. The ministry also developed a National Strategy for Girls Education, with clear approaches on how to address the various issues affecting girls, including menstruation.
It is important that the President’s pledge incorporates key aspects of the ministry’s guidelines such as the provision of separate (clean) toilet facilities for boys, girls, and children with disabilities; washroom and changing room facilities for girls; access to water, emergency changing uniforms; sanitary towels; guidance and counselling services, among others.
More important: To improve access to menstrual hygiene management, parents and schools should ensure girls get the necessary information and guidance on the basics of menstrual management.