12 April 2013

Uganda: Let Us Keep More Rural Girls In School


It is quite unfortunate that many of the problems faced by girls in rural areas do not crop up in urban settings hence we tend to take certain issues for granted.

How many of us, for example, ever think about the possibility of a girl lacking sanitary pads and improvising with banana leaves? There are some who, oblivious to hygiene concerns, utilise old pieces of cloth which they reuse regularly after washing.

This happens quite often in villages while their counterparts in town laugh it off as hearsay. In fact this state of affairs has seen a number of girl-children leave school prematurely as they reach puberty stage.

In my constituency of Namutumba district, which is majorly rural, it is common knowledge that by primary one level the girls are more than boys in class. However, the trend changes drastically after P.5 with a sizeable number of girls leaving partly due to onset of menstruation.

Some are easily convinced to become wives of men who provide them with cash for sanitary towels that their peasant parents cannot afford.

Against that backdrop, I am excited that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will, under a sh800m project, provide free sanitary towels to primary school girls in my constituency.

Under the arrangement, they will supply a sewing machine and appropriate materials to each of the 15 benefitting schools so as to make the free sanitary pads. It is a worthwhile venture, which I believe would go a long way in helping the girl-child study successfully.

The NRM government has been at the forefront of women emancipation all these years. What better motivation could be appreciated than getting development partners injecting money into betterment of the woman?

It has not been a smooth sailing though as it all started when I invited a missionary friend called Robin Beckle to escort me to my constituency. Before I knew it she was already getting concerned about the appalling sanitation in the area.

Beckle could not believe that in this modern age, people still collected water from wells jointly serving as habitats for toads and snakes. She actually looked the other way in fright after a huge toad jumped into the water as women unconcernedly drew water from the Mazuba village well.

The inquisitive lady put me to task to take her around the entire Namutumba district during which time she interacted also with school girls. After verifying the plight of the locals, Beckle promised to help the area get better sanitary measures in place.

By the end of this year, we expect to have the made-in-Namutumba sanitary towels in place. Similarly, to ensure the girls bathe clean water especially during the times of monthly periods, 14 water harvest tanks each with a capacity of 10,000litres are to be installed at benefitting schools throughout the constituency.

In addition, 106 VIP latrines are to be constructed at some schools as well as setting up 20 hand dug wells. My constituents are also assured of 40 protected water wells to provide more safe water. But I think the winners of the project should be the girl-child whose prolonged stay in school is somehow being turned from a dream to reality.

Actually, some girls have resorted to staying away from school every time they start menstruating because they don't have sanitary pads. This definitely makes them prone to all sorts of risks.

Any professional teacher knows the implications of a child not attending lessons. Among other outcomes it inevitably puts her at a disadvantage when it comes to evaluation.

To educate a woman tantamount educating a nation and what better way can we serve the country than through boosting education of the girl-child?

The writer is the woman MP of Namutumba

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