In an effort to end child marriages and improve the rights, welfare of the girl child in Malawi, Chilimba Women and Children Support Group (CHILIWOGO) recently conducted an interface meeting with community members, in Machinga district which revealed a large number of girls skip school at the time of their menstruation because they cannot afford to buy sanitary towels or tampons.
Also present during the meeting were education authorities, traditional leaders and politicians to bang heads for the way forward.
The outcome of the meeting established that lack of proper facilities in schools, like lack of sanitation force girls to drop out of school for marriages.
The meeting revealed that girls in Machinga North East Constituency miss up to eight days of study each school term because they are on their periods.
“Most children miss lessons until their period is over. When they report to classes, they normally say that they were sick because they have no other reason to give out,” a teacher disclosed to Nyasa Times .
According to the teacher, this was due to lack of washrooms, lack of sanitary pads and bullying by peers, focus groups with 12 to 17 year olds.
The eight days on average translates into 11% of the total learning days in a year. It’s a school absence rate that is hard for the girl to make up for and partly accounts for girls dropping out of high school.
Most of the girls, who Nyasa Times interviewed in the constituency said they used a piece of cloth called a kitenge which they got from their mothers, while others improvised with the cloth nappies used by their younger siblings.
Some girls even used dry leaves to try to soak up the blood in emergency situations. Not only are these girls dealing with a lack of materials, they are also stigmatized by cultural attitudes that regard menstruating women and girls as dirty.
Many girls grow up dreading their period because of the social stigma associated with menstruation, as well as the lack of services and facilities to help them.
Those who cannot afford to buy sanitary towels resort to diverse methods, ranging from old pieces of cloth or used blankets to tissue paper or just remaining indoors to contain the menstrual flow.
These methods are not only unhygienic, but a health hazard.
“I used to use cloths that I would cut from my old t-shirts to keep the blood from staining my dresses, but they were not enough and blood would still stain my clothes,” said a 16-year-old pupil, who opted for anonymity in the constituency. “Boys used to laugh at me and I eventually simply stayed home whenever my periods started.”
Another pupil chipped in, “Without decent toilets or washing facilities, our health is put at risk and we are likely to drop out of school rather than face the humiliation of finding somewhere private to change. By talking about periods, we can help normalize this natural process and help girls and women live healthier and more dignified lives.”
Senior Chief Nyambi said there is need to build separate toilets for boys and girls in schools, so girls have a private space to go to when they are menstruating.
He also lobbied for the distribution of menstrual health hygiene materials in schools.
Nyambi also bemoaned slow progress of development projects in his area. He stated that this eventually impacts negatively on the efforts that are aimed at promoting the welfare of the girl child.
Senior Chief Nyambi also said long distances to school force many girls to dropout out of school.
He then, pleaded with government to construct a boarding secondary school in the district as a way of dealing with long distance.
“It is sad that the whole district we have no government boarding secondary school. This development force girls to walk long distances to search for education,” he said.
Traditional Authority (T/A) kapoloma concurred with Nyambi that Machinga North East Constituency is facing a lot of problems as far as promoting girl child education is concerned.
The Primary School Advisor (PEA) for Namasika Zone, Bryson Kibulo, confirmed that lack of sanitary facilities for girls in schools in the constituency contributes to the increase in school dropout rates and child marriages.
Responding to all the findings during the meeting, the special assistant to the Member of Parliament for the area, who is also Minister of Home Affairs, Charles Khozomba, admitted that the area is indeed facing several challenges in the promotion of girl child education.
He described the meeting as an eye opener and that his office will consider carefully the issues that were raised.
“There is need to make sure that there is good sanitation for girls in our schools. We will also lobby for sanitary pads from Non-Governmental Organizations,” he said.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :