By Fletcher Simwaka, Contributor:
It has always been a dream of 15-year-old Anne Millias to become a pilot once she completes her tertiary education. Anne’s dream seemed to have gotten to a flying start with the construction of Katete Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) by ActionAid Malawi (AAM) in 2018.
The donation meant Anne—a Form One learner at the CDSS— has to travel only three kilometres to access secondary education from her Chazim’bobo Village, Traditional Authority Kasakura, Ntchisi District.
Before Katete CDSS was constructed, learners from Chazim’bobo had to walk almost 10 kilometres to access secondary education at Kasakura CDSS.
But, as Anne found out, menstruation became yet another barrier to her dream.
“Every month, I would abscond classes for at least five days due to menstruation,” she narrates with sad nostalgia.Advertisement
“My parents could not afford sanitary pads from the shops so I had to use rags, which could help the situation. This forced me to stay indoors till I finished menstruating.”
This meant in a school term, Anne would miss lessons for more than three weeks due to menstruation, a development that affected her academic performance.
Anne is, in fact, the face of a sad reality of most girls at Katete CDSS and other secondary schools in the country.
In a country where over half of the country’s population live below the World Bank poverty line of $1.9 a day, finding the next meal becomes the sole target of most families, especially in rural areas. Access to sanitary pads becomes a distant priority.
As a result, most girls from poverty-stricken families opt for cotton wool and old-dirty clothes, torn into pieces, during their menstruation periods.
Medical experts have since warned that such materials expose most girls and women to diseases such as cervical cancer which is caused by the human papilloma virus.
Unhygienic protective wear of menstrual management is linked to growth of bacteria and fungus, thereby leading to infections.
The menstruation challenge among school-going girls also jeopardises the country’s attainment of the Goals number Three and Five of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal Three calls upon members states to ensure inclusive equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, while Goal Five impresses on countries to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls by 2030.
But it is not all doom and gloom for girls at Mkomachi and Chimwa CDSS in Lilongwe and Katete and Kasakura CDSS in Ntchisi. In 2018, ActionAid, with funding from Dorcas International, introduced Menstrual Cup Project, an initiative that seeks to improve girls’ retention in primary and secondary schools through the provision of cost-effective and environmental friendly menstrual cups.
A menstrual cup is a hygienic feminine product that is inserted into the vagina during menstruation. Its purpose is to provide a good protective menstrual wear to prevent menstrual fluid from leaking onto clothes. Menstrual cups are usually made of flexible medical grade silicone and shaped like a small bell with a stem.
Project Coordinator, Lucy Nkhoma, says the initiative specifically targets girls who cannot afford sanitary pads in primary and secondary schools.
“The initiative is contributing towards reducing girls’ school absenteeism due to menstruation. We hope that with the distribution of free menstrual cups, the beneficiaries will be able to concentrate on their studies and realise their dreams,” Nkhoma says.
She adds that most girls like the menstrual cups, with a total of 600 girls in the targeted schools already reached with free cups.
Before the menstrual cups are distributed, says Nkhoma, the project team from AAM engages the girls in intensive sessions on what the menstrual cup is all about and how to use and take care of them.
The team also engages female teachers and girls’ mothers on the initiative to ensure that girls are supported on the initiative.
Priscilla Phiri-Mwanza, a gynaecologist at Kamuzu Central Hospital, says menstrual cups are a cost-effective, hygienic and durable product, adding that they would go a long way in helping girls to stay and concentrate on their studies.
“The menstrual cup is well calibrated, which makes it easy to quantify blood loss,” says Phiri-Mwanza.
“The good thing is one can use a single cup for 10 years so long it is properly cleaned after use. Most importantly, the menstrual cup is most convenient and prevents leakage during menstruation. I would highly recommend the cup for the girls in schools.”
For all the advantages of the menstrual cup, warns Phiri- Mwanza, lack of potable water and absence of bathrooms and other sanitary facilities in many primary and secondary schools in Malawi could affect the effectiveness of the cup.
“It is important that there be sanitation facilities such as safe water in both schools and homes to ensure that the cup achieves its intended purpose,” she advises.
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