Accessing sanitary pads is one of the difficulties for most of the women and adolescent girls in Ethiopia. Especially, in remote and rural areas the problems related to accessing sanitary pad is tough since most people cannot afford them.
Besides, there is a lack of awareness and education about menstrual hygiene management. Several adolescent girls do not have access to education and awareness on puberty and menstrual health impacting their education and lives. According to studies close to 70% of girls across Ethiopia reported receiving no education on menstruation at school.
Cognizant of these situations, Hailemariam & Roman Foundation has been implementing a program that supports school girls to get access to education and menstrual hygiene kits in pastoral areas. The program has been strengthening school gender clubs, providing reusable washable cloth menstrual pads, and reference books, and facilitating tutorial classes for helping adolescent girls from pastoral communities succeed in their education since 2021.
In addition, HRF has also been advocating and creating awareness in the community on gender-based violence, the benefits of girls’ education, and the negative effects of harmful practices among others. To promote that HRF makes a call to local administration, including community leaders to take bold actions in stopping the taking & giving of huge dowries for marriage as it underpins the underlying sociocultural values that affect girls, marginalize women, and perpetuate gender inequality in these areas.
Zeneb Tadesse, 18, learns in 11th grade in Gira Azmach Adinew Garsho Secondary school, Bena Tsemay Woreda of South Omo Zone in Southern Ethiopia describes the situation in the area as very challenging for girls due to limited knowledge about menstrual hygiene management and limited access to its hygiene kits.
She said, “As I live in a pastoral community in a rural area, which is about 800 km south of the Ethiopian capital city, Addis Ababa, awareness about the menstrual cycle and its hygiene management is very limited. We hardly access sanitary hygiene kits such as sanitary pads in the area. In our context, menstrual hygiene management is one of the challenges of girls in primary and secondary schools.”
“By the time we are in the menstrual cycle, we stay at home and become absent from school because we did not have access to its management facility at school. We used to use worn-out cloths to manage it during our periods since we did not have access to sanitary pads. Now, thanks to Hailemariam & Roman Foundation, we easily get washable and reusable sanitary pads from our school gender club. As result, we are not ashamed to go to school during our menstrual periods. I and my schoolmates get the opportunity to attend school regularly even in the days we are in menstrual periods. The support helps me to peruse my dream. I want to study hard and to go to a university. After that I wish to be a Lawyer,” Zeneb added.
By the same token, an 18 year’s old girl and 12th-grade student in Zeneb’s school, Tirufat Dana, expresses the problem and gives her testimonies by saying: “I did not go to school at least 4 days per month until the monthly menstrual cycle period passes. When I was absent, I miss classes and exams, which affect my grade and result in low educational performance. But recently with the support of Hailemariam & Roman Foundation to our school, things are changing. I have access to reusable sanitary pads at school. I am regularly attending classes and following my education attentively as a result, my confidence is increasing, and I score very good results in exams.”
She added “The school has designated places where girls can get and change sanitary pads and placed water and soap to wash. However, the designated place is not much comfortable to the girls since it is with in the toilet rooms and has shortage of water.”
Most of the women and girls in the area do not freely speak about menstruation and its hygiene management, since it is considered as taboo in society. Thus, adolescent school girls and boys have limited knowledge about the issue and they are ashamed of talking about the problems they may encounter during the time of menstrual periods. Thus, HRF trained health workers and school gender club representatives on reproductive health and youth-friendly services that include menstruation and its management to cascade the training to the adolescent girls and boys in the community as well as in schools. Then, it provided sanitary pads to the school gender club to provide it to adolescent girls whenever they need it.
Teacher Rebika Bichiro a girls’ club coordinator at Gira Azmach Adinew Garsho Secondary school, said, “HRF supported, our school’s gender club with sanitary pads and pieces of training on reproductive health including menstrual hygiene. As a result, we provide awareness among boys and girls on gender issues, including the menstrual cycle, as well the club provides sanitary pads for girls. Members of the club have increased their knowledge of the issue and their understanding has also improved. We engage boys in matters related to reproductive health, including menstrual issues which helped the girls in reducing shame.”
“Presently, Girls do not miss school as before because of menstruation as they have access to reusable sanitary pads. I teach most of the girls in school. They are very attentive in my class and participate actively. Their performance has shown improvements and most of them are competent in the classroom recently,” said Rebika.
According to a 2017 UNICEF baseline report a significant proportion (between 11 – 46 percent in pilot areas) of girls miss school due to menstruation. Over the course of a year, the number of school days lost has a large impact and holds them back academically.
In response to the challenge, HRF has been supporting to reach more than 2300 adolescent girls with reusable sanitary pads in its target intervention areas so far. Through the interventions, HRF together with its development partners is contributing towards achieving a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); SDG 4: quality education, SDG 5: gender equality, and SDG 6: clean water and sanitation.
Hailemariam & Roman Foundation
March 2023, Addis Ababa