How Periods — Yes, Periods — Force Girls Out of School
By Shay Maunz
You're a woman, so you know the cycle: Get your period. Get a little annoyed you have to deal with it. Deal with it and move on with your week. Wait a month. Repeat.
But for a surprising number of women in developing countries, it’s not nearly that simple. For many girls, getting their period for the first time starts a pattern that forces them to miss more and more school and often leads to them dropping out altogether. According to UNICEF, one out of every 10 girls in Africa misses school because she’s menstruating.
So, why is that? Fiona Mavhinga, from Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education, Skyped us from Johannesburg, South Africa, to explain how a girl’s period can lead her to drop out of school.
She doesn’t have sanitary pads
Sanitary pads are expensive. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, a pack of pads might cost a dollar or two, while until recently, a year of schooling in Tanzania cost the equivalent of $20. “Most families could not afford to send their children to school for $20, and the cost of sanitary pads per year is around $24,” Fiona says. “Can you imagine that? Families simply can’t afford it.”
She does have them, but she can’t keep them clean
In the developing world, a lot of girls use reusable pads or cloths. That seems like a better option, until you consider what it takes to keep them clean. First, a girl has to have soap to wash with, which isn’t a given. “Then girls need to hang them out in the sun to let them dry, and most often young women are too embarrassed to hang their pads in the open where everyone can see,” Fiona says. “They’ll end up hanging them in dark corners and still using them even when they’re wet.” Wet pads, needless to say, aren’t absorbent enough to protect against leaks, and they’re not healthy either.
There’s nowhere to change her pad at school
Many rural schools in developing countries don’t have adequate toilet facilities. That is, toilets that are clean, private, and safe. That means that girls might not have anywhere to change their pads at school or to clean up if they have an accident.
She’s forced to stay home to deal with her period
For all those reasons, a lot of girls decide they’re better off staying home during their period rather than going to school and risking an accident. Accidents, in cultures where menstruation is still taboo, are understandably devastating for young girls.
Imagine a girl stays home three days a month while she’s on her period — that adds up to a few weeks absent each term and several months of absences throughout secondary school. In places where education isn't valued, a girl who has missed a lot of school and fallen behind might just decide to drop out altogether. "They end up thinking, What's the point of going to school anyway? Fiona says. “It really limits girls' potential."
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