Menstrual health in many Ugandan cultures is still a taboo subject and has negative connotations attached to traditional beliefs. The resulting stigma exacerbates the challenges of managing menstrual hygiene, which are in any event difficult given the poor availability of adequate toilet facilities. Women’s dignity, self-esteem and ability to participate in society are all affected. This is particularly relevant for adolescent girls.
Health and education of girls is a cornerstone of development and is a gateway to full participation of women in political, economic and cultural spheres of life. However, a local study indicates that 31% of the girls in the Mbale district miss lesson during their periods. This is attributed to the lack of appropriate facilities (gender-specific toilets, sanitary pads and water), discomfort, fear of embarrassment and lack of privacy. Only 26% of the girls are supported practically or financially by their parents during their monthly periods with 74% finding other alternatives. This results in poor menstrual hygiene management practices amongst Ugandan schoolgirls.
Menstrual hygiene management is discussed underground, if at all, and is surrounded by harmful myths and stigma. The lack of knowledge is exacerbated by the inability for many girls to afford proper menstrual products; instead they resort to crude materials to absorb their menstrual flow such as unhygienic scraps of old dirty clothes, banana leaves and newspapers, which are neither effective nor comfortable, pose a hazard to health, cause frequent embarrassing leaks and susceptibility to recurrent infections. This situation reduces most girls’ experiences of menstruation to a monthly dose of discomfort and shame. So rather than risk the embarrassment of a leak in front of her peers, or the discomfort of sitting in class all day, many girls choose to stay at home. With an absence rate of 1 week in 4, girls cannot possibly keep pace with their education and many eventually drop out of school altogether.