KAMPALA – Most girls from humble families in Uganda have resorted to staying out of school during their menstruation periods since they cannot afford pads.
Data shows that Uganda has reported the highest dropout rate in East Africa with 28% of the adolescent girls missing a minimum of four school days per cycle, which leads to poor performance in class. Some of them drop out entirely.
Many girls immediately go home when they get their period, usually not appearing at school the entire week. But even at home, the situation is no different. Girls are pressurised into keeping the rags out of sight from their family members. They hide them in dark places and sometimes wear them before they are dried properly, which increases the risk of infection and hygiene-related illnesses.
In a bid to manage the challenge, Smart Girls Uganda with support from United Nations Population Fund – UNFPA has innovated the solar smart bag to try and keep girls at school during their menstrual periods.
Smart Girls Foundation is a non-profit making, girl-centered, development organization that empowers and mentors girls in health, education, and equity by enabling girls, youth, and women to transform their own lives and that of their communities.
The water-proofed bag consists of reusable pads and a solar panel that charges a light bulb for girls to use to light themselves while changing their pads, when walking to school and also at night to read their books.
Ms. Mayanja Jamila- Founder of Smart Girls Uganda says she innovated the bag after realising that girls were not staying in school even when they were given reusable pads.
“So, I innovated the bags for them to try and be able to carry their unused reusable pads but also when they get to school they do not have where to wash the pads, they can still carry them in the bag to be able to wash them at their convenience,” Mayanja said while launching the bag at their training centre on Gayaza road, Kampala on Tuesday.
“So, it’s a holistic solution to make sure girls stay in school. We also recycle plastic waste to make it [bag] waterproof and be able to help the environment while giving them [girls] access to energy to be able to read their books. So, the girl has no excuse at all to be out of school during their menstruation periods,” she said.
Smart Girls Uganda has also trained the girls in electrical installation, mechanical engineering and tailoring.
Ms. Mayanja says this is to help also the girls already out of school to equip them with necessary skills and that will later create them employment to be able to have economic sustainability.
Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, UNFPA Regional Director East and Southern Africa who is currently on a mission visiting Uganda commended Smart Girls Uganda for supporting young girls with life skills and also looking at training them in sexual and reproductive health so that they can plan their lives.
“So this is an example of great innovation because this program is making pads for young girls which also provide solar lights and they can also use the bags to carry their pads. It ensures their stay in school.”
In their new strategic plan, UNFPA has the slogan ‘AIM’, where ‘A’ stands for Accelerate (to achieve three transformative results which are ending pre-maternal death, ending and making the need for family planning, and ending gender-based violence and harmful practices). ‘I’ is for Innovation (to have an impact and address social challenges) and ‘M’ for Motivate.
Dr. Ndyanabangi, says their plan is reflected at Smart Girls Uganda through their work.
“If this is scaled up, especially in rural areas where there are insufficient resources, this can help so that the issue of a girl not going to school because they lack pads will be history.”
Ms. Nabatanzi Flavia, a beneficiary and student at Smart Girls Uganda narrated how she has managed to rise from humble background to now an electrical shop owner.
She says upon completion of her senior six in 2018, she enrolled in the ‘Girls With Tool’ project at Smart Girls Uganda since her parents could hardly afford university fees.
Girls With Tools is one of the Foundation’s flagship projects that holds hands-on courses every 6 months to train girls in four non-traditional skills including carpentry, machinery, automotive mechanics, and welding. In addition to this, the girls are also trained in entrepreneurship, life skills, gender issues and financial management.
“I joined as an electrical engineer at a certificate level in 2018. I used to go the field and I earned myself experience. I’ve also learned how to make pads and also how to maintain them,” Nabatanzi said.
“I’ve also been privileged to get some training from the American embassy, so, this project has benefited me as a person because that is where I get my food.”
Ms. Mayanja called on the government to support initiatives like theirs to help young people to live a healthy, economically sustainable lifestyle.
“…I need a push from the government to support and help us impact as many young girls as possible but also help us sustain those we are giving economic empowerment.”
The fully equipped smart bag is sold at shs130k and shs110k for one with fewer items.