Keeping African girls in school


Did you know that 1 in 10 African girls drop out of school when they reach puberty? And the reason? They are unable to manage the changes in their body and don’t have access to sanitary pads.

Intrepid’s SAMA Project partner Plan’s Krissy Nicholson gives a first-hand account of a new project in Uganda designed to keep more girls in school with the simplest of solutions – Afripads, a re-usable, washable cloth pad.

“I was as high as a kite and my smile as wide as Africa when I recently returned from the green, rocky district of Tororo in eastern Uganda. This is where Plan is running an innovative program that will help around 100,000 women and girls to remain in school and generate an income.

I will never again take for granted my ability to buy pads and tampons, knowing that so many African girls drop out of school as a result of poor hygiene and lack of sanitary products. Girls have no place to wash at school, and often face embarrassing accidents which usually results in them skipping school.

Through this new program, Plan is working to educate girls, teachers and the broader community on female hygiene. We want to break down cultural taboos and support wider education on women’s health. To do this we have partnered with a social business called AfriPads, who make a re-usable, washable cloth pad appropriate for the African context – great for the girls and great for the environment.

Not only does access to the pads enable girls to stay in school, but with greater understanding of their bodies the girls can manage change, not fear what’s happening. Knowledge is power, the power to stay in school and control their own reproductive health.

There’s also an entrepreneurial aspect to the program. Local women are able to purchase the AfriPads at a subsidised price to sell to others and generate an income for themselves and their families. “With the money I saved, I built my house”, said a woman named Christine, patting the walls of the house we were sitting next to. It was the biggest house in the village with bricks and a corrugated iron roof, rather than the traditional round mud brick and straw huts that were a quarter of the size.

Another woman who introduced herself as Florence said, with her head held high: “I am a single mother and with the extra money, I am able to stand in my home like a man.” “Don’t you mean like a strong woman?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “With the power of a man. I have control of everything in the house and I am able to manage now.”

I was overwhelmed with wonder at how women with so little in the way of possessions and money can achieve so much. The female hygiene program will take women like this to another level so that they can build better lives for themselves and their families and keep their children in school. What a privilege to be a part of this!”

Intrepid’s Project SAMA is working to address issues of gender inequality. We are doing this through advocacy on the issues and support for a number of projects around the world. This includes support for Plan’s education projects in Uganda and Laos. You can learn more about and get behind Project SAMA here, or on Facebook

Or take our Kili Climb and rise to the challenge for gender equality!

Image: Plan, Plan International staff Sharon and Judith (back row) with members of the Village Savings and Loans Association group 

About the author'
Jane Crouch - Jane is a responsible business guru who writes about all aspects of how travel can bring positive environmental, social and economic benefits. Informed through travel on seven continents, leading Intrepid trips through SE Asia, work in outdoor education, energy conservation, international development, philanthropy and climate change action, plus a big love of walking, mountains and world music.

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How can our women’s service club, Soroptimist International of Deakin, support the SAMA Project in Uganda?'

Hi Merrilyn,
Thank-you so much for asking! The key activities for us right now are fundraising for early childhood education in Uganda and advocacy around the issues to improve gender equality in the region. We would be delighted for your club to help and will email to you directly with our contact details – so together we can discuss options. While we’re ‘on topic’ do please tell your friends about the Intrepid supported documentary ‘I Am A Girl’ which is being repeated on ABC2 this Saturday night. Happy International Women’s Day…and we’ll be in touch!
Best wishes, Jane'
Elicia Faccioni / Reply

Hi Jane,

Reading this story brought me to tears, I’ve spent a huge part of my life seeking therapy due to being obsessive compulsive with my hygiene. I was so ignorant to think that every women knows how to take care of her self to feel empowered & i was the only one with a problem (mine was extreme cleansing) but after reading this i would like to know how i can get involved? Perhaps working overseas as I love to travel, i am also a jazz singer & am great at talking to people! I have such a soft spot for other women who find life’s norms to us, as difficult. Hope i can help in some way..'

Hi Elicia,
It was learning about issues like these through my travels, that led me to get involved in supporting a range of fabulous international non-government organisations, like Plan, The Fred Hollows Foundation, OXFAM and WaterAid that address these sorts of issues, and then ultimately returning to uni to study international development. These sorts of NGOs always need volunteers to talk about their work at festivals and events, like the sorts of events that happen around International Women’s Day. So perhaps you might want to explore which is the ‘right’ development NGO for you and then volunteer your performing and talking talents! Do check out UN Women too… I’m unsure where you are based. But a ‘google’ will find if there might be a group near you. I’ve no doubt your ‘voice’ singing out for human rights could make a powerful difference.
Best wishes, Jane'
kathryn murdock / Reply

Having just finished appearing in “The Vagina Monologues” I wonder if you are also addressing the mutilation of girls in the name of “circumcision.”'

Hi Kathryn, Good on you for your activism through the arts. We have been keeping in touch with the issues through our support for Amnesty International and their End FGM campaigning. Please see our story ‘800 girls a day must have rights’ for more information. Our Project SAMA has also been helping to bring attention to these issues. Best wishes, Jane

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