Education

3 African governments addressing a barrier to girls’ education: sanitary pads

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There are many factors which limit the girl child’s access to education. Research has shown that these range from lack of resources to fund her education, to some cultural and patriarchal factors such as giving preference to fund a male child’s education instead of a female.

There are however some other personal reasons why girls do not attend school. One factor which has been recurring in many conversations is the unavailability of sanitary wear. The news shares numerous stories of girls who use unconventional materials during their periods while some resort to being absent from school all together.

The good news is that there are a number of governments who have been going an extra mile to improve how a girl child experiences school during her periods. Below are three African countries we could all learn from:

Kenya

In June 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed an act into law which guarantees sanitary wear for all girls attending public school. The act states that “free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels” must be provided to every girl registered at school, as well as providing “a safe and environmental sound mechanism for disposal”.[1]

Kenya’s journey is admirable; from 2004, the Kenyan government started repealing value added tax on sanitary pads and tampons making them more affordable to every woman who needs them. In 2011, they started budgeting a little over $3 million per year to provide free sanitary pads to girls in low-income schools. [2]

The 2017 law, guarantees that girls will have sanitary pads even if the government changes. It is estimated that over one million girls across Kenya will benefit from this initiative.

South Africa

As early as 2011, president Jacob Zuma spoke about the need to address the sanitary wear challenge in South Africa. There have been numerous campaigns which have been held across the country to build a case for the removal of value added tax on sanitary pads as well making them free for girls in schools.

One province, KwaZulu Natal (KZN), has made this issue a priority and in January 2017 started an initiative to provide sanitary towels to girls from poor communities from Grade 4 – 12. The KZN government argues that the aim of this initiative will be to reduce school- drop outs. According to a circular on the government website, the pads will be distributed to 2992 schools across the province.[3]

Zambia

In 2017, the government announced in its budget speech that it would commence a program aimed at providing sanitary towels to girls in rural and peri-urban areas of Zambia. According to the budget speech this program will support 14,000 girls from 16 districts thus ensure that their attendance in schools is more regular. This move by the Zambian government serves to back the various promises which the government had been making about this issue.

These three countries are making a lot of progress to ensure girls not only stay in school but also become confident and participate to their fullest capacity because they have access to sanitary pads. The highlight though is that these changes are happening because many people are standing up to demand better for girls and their right to access education.

This is commendable move and we hope more provinces will learn from this initiative.

Why don’t you add your voice to the millions of people demanding better for women and girls across Africa? Sign the postcard.

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-40365691

[2] http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/05/10/476741805/what-kenya-can-teach-the-u-s-about-menstrual-pads

[3]http://www.kzneducation.gov.za/Portals/0/Circuiars/KZN/2017/KZN%20CIRCULAR%20NO.%2002%20OF%202017-DISTRIBUTION%20OF%20SANITARY%20PADS%20TO%20SCHOOLS.pdf

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