By Alex Roberts
Lost time is never regained. This rings true for millions of girls and women globally due to menstrual-related challenges. When this time missed falls on school days, the gap to make up can simply be too vast for many to make up. In the Ugandan and East African context, such periods of absence can lead to a deficit of and productivity that is nearly impossible to bridge. This singular issue is the essence of gender inequality on a global scale and is a major factor in holding back development worldwide.
The issue of absence boils down to an inequity of time in the classroom and workstations, and the numbers can be staggering. For a girl without access to menstrual hygiene products, the percent of school days missed can range all the way up to between 15-20% of all possible classroom time missed or 168 hours of absence. She is faced with unconscionable choices: either negatively impact her path to education and eventually career opportunities; or face shame and ridicule at the hands of classmates. The choice for so many is the former, to forgo time sitting at a desk to time spent back at home locked out of her chances to succeed. In certain regions girls make a detour from school into a bush somewhere to sit on a pile of sand. as is the case with Karamojong girls. Most are predisposed to rape and inffection.
The impacts of such a choice tend to become dire very quickly. In a 200-day school year, 20% of days missed equals 40 days (or eight entire school weeks). That is two entire months to make up, a nearly insurmountable obstacle for many. These days missed don’t fall neatly into a pupil’s regimented schedule of assignments, presentations, and key exam days. The last of these is perhaps of most concern- if a girl misses the days for USCE and UCE examinations, it can directly cost her entrance to university. Even well into the 21st century, the correlation between the age when a girl either stops her education or is forced to drop out is directly correlated to a number of daunting challenges stacked against her; including career earnings, the number of children she has and an increase in the risk to suffer domestic violence.
This is the epitome of a solvable issue, and the network of solutions can be found here within Uganda. In an economy that has long held local kiosks as a key cog, and which is increasingly becoming more geared towards digital accessibility there is both a need and an opportunity to let Uganda be the stage for menstrual absences to be solved permanently. That’s where PADShare steps in with menstrual hygiene packages at designated stations: building a network of access, discretion and dignity for girls across Uganda and widening the circle of opportunity for hundreds, if not thousands of young women.
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