Palabek Settlement, Lamwo — "I want to be an accountant when I grow up and menstruation will not stop me," says Gloria Kwero, 17, a grade seven pupil at World View Primary School in Palabek Refugee settlement.
She has not missed a day of school since she learnt about managing her monthly menses through a school club.
"Before the club was brought to our school, I used to miss one week of school every month until I ended my periods.
"The club has helped me a lot because I got information about managing my menses. I also learnt how to make reusable sanitary pads and how to maintain them," she says.
The club, consisting of students aged 13 to 16 years old, meets once a week to demystify menstruation. It provides information to girls about menstrual hygiene and sensitizes boys to eliminate stigma surrounding menstruation. It also helps them make healthy adolescent reproductive health choices through music, dance, sports and drama activities. Discussions include peer pressure, healthy living and life skills training.
Girls missing school due to menstruation
The start of menstruation is a natural and healthy part of a woman's life. But for many girls, that time of the month can be a nightmare to manage.
In Uganda, it is estimated that 30 per cent girls from poor families miss out on school during their monthly menstrual cycle due to a lack of sanitary products to help them cope. As a consequence, some drop out of school.
For adolescent girls living in humanitarian settings, menstrual health management is even more difficult.
To address this, UNFPA is providing sanitary kits to adolescent girls living in humanitarian settings to keep them in school. Through ACORD, UNFPA has established school clubs to end gender-based violence (GBV) in primary schools in the refugee settlements of Lamwo, Kiryadongo, Kyaka II and Rwamwanja.
Breaking the silence around GBV in schools
These clubs encourage debate, raise awareness and help shape the mindsets of boys and girls about GBV prevention at an early age, to help break the silence surrounding school-related GBV.
The clubs have made a great difference in both school attendance and performance, said Stella Aloyo Oryang, the school's head teacher. "Lack of sanitary pads was a major cause of school drop-out. Now we see a reduction in the number of girls leaving school. I see a lot of changes in our girls as far as performance is concerned," she says.
Before the club was launched, girls (and boys) did not have a platform to share their social problems encountered both at home and at school, according Ms. Oryang.
"The clubs have created great self-awareness and girls are now opening up and expressing themselves. They are more confident," she says.
School matron, Night Akwero, agrees. The end GBV club has helped the young people live more focused and responsible lives, she says. There are many child-headed households among the communities, and these children need to be empowered to realize the benefits of staying in school.
"The clubs are very helpful. We are seeing better performance in class and no pregnancy cases have been reported in the school since the clubs started," she says.
"Menstrual [dignity] kits are provided but girls should be empowered to make their own. We need to be able to reach every adolescent girl so as to keep them in school."
Benson Kidega, 16, says that before he joined the club, he spent much of his time in the company of friends who lured him to video halls to watch films at night instead of doing his homework.
"I stopped moving around at night as I realized this does not give me time to revise my [work]. When something is not good for you, you have to make the right decisions," he says. "In the club, I was also told I should not go for early marriage because it can lead to dropping out of school."
- Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi