Absenteeism rate among adolescent girls in Malawi primary schools due to poor menstrual hygiene is expected to drastically reduce following a launch of a project known as Keeping Girls in School which seeks to distribute, for free, reusable sanitary pads to primary school girls.
Communications adviser for Girls Empowerment Network (GENET) which is championing the effort Joyce Mkandawire told Nyasa Times during the project launch at Lunzu Catholic Primary School in the commercial capital Blantyre that the initiative follows studies they conducted which show that 30 percent of primary school girls in Malawi absent themselves from classes for at least 5 days a month due to menstrual hygiene related issues.
“This project will help the girls not only stay in school but comfortably stay in class because many adolescent girls fail to stand up to answer questions and even being involved in any exercise in school and comfortably walk around the school campus because they are afraid that whatever they are wearing may fall off,” she said.
Mkandawire said the reusable sanitary pads which are currently produced at the organization’s offices in Blantyre would likely improve the girls’ menstrual hygiene and provide them with needed comfort as they can be washed and reused over and over and fitted into a hooked under wears to avoid falling off.
Deputy Head Teacher for Lunzu Catholic Primary School Mercy Kazembe said since the introduction of the pads at the school absenteeism rate among girls has really been reduced.
“Before the introduction of the pads many girls here were not attending classes when in menstrual period a development that made them to perform badly in class. But now this has changed and no girl is now failing to attend classes because of menstruation,” she said.
Bertha Mavaya and Irene Chasweka were among the primacy school adolescent girls who testified on how the sanitary pads have helped them. They told the gathering that the new pads have served them from embarrassment of dirtying themselves whenever they are menstrual periods.
“We have been facing many problems when we are in period and this made us fail to attend classes as we would sometimes dirt our clothes due to lack of necessary materials for menstrual hygiene but since the introduction of the pads, we are now able to attend classes without worrying about anything and actively participate in school activities throughout”, said Mavaya.
The project is being piloted in 15 primary schools in the southern districts of Blantyre and Mulanje with funding from local brewery company Carlsberg Malawi Limited and an international charity Cordaid.
Corporate Communications Officer for the Malawi Carlsberg Limited Towera Phiri said the company decided to fund the project to the tune of over K3million as part of its corporate social responsibility especially on issues of education.
“Carlsberg Malawi identifies education as one of priority areas of its corporate responsibility. At the moment we haven’t done much work for the past two years around education, so we are proud to sponsor a project which inspires young girls to pursue education comfortably. We recognize that girls have an issue when they come of age when they are adolescent so that’s why we made the commitment to sponsor the project,” she said.
Director for Primary Education in the ministry of education Hyacinth Kulemeka, who was the guest of honor at the launch, applauded GENET for what she called recommendable project that has addressed an issue which for a long time has been silently killing education standards among Malawi girls largely due to cultural beliefs.
“Issues of menstrual period have been a hindrance to girl education because for a long time it has been treated as a private matter as it affects the girl in the private arena where she is not free to say ‘I can’t go school because of this problem’. Because of our culture issues of menstruation are a taboo, we don’t talk about that in public and the girls have been absent from school quietly without people associating the absenteeism with the issue”.
She applauded the NGO for taking an in initiative of bringing the problem to the fore and finding solution at the same time.
Kulemeka therefore asked the NGO to extend the project countrywide so that it should benefit each and every girl in Malawi.