UN estimates suggest that 1 in 10 girls from Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle, with some missing out on 20% of their education.
“In August I missed 4 days of school because I was experiencing my monthly cycle” says one girl. “I missed 3 days of class in October because my family could not afford sanitary pads” says another during a discussion among students at a school in South Sudan.
This is a common story for adolescent girls across South Sudan as sanitary pads are expensive and inaccessible. In addition, menstruation is considered a taboo topic, causing embarrassment and exclusion from school, family life and social activities for girls when they are menstruating.
Girls miss out on education
As a result, girls often choose to stay at home when they have their periods. “I even fear to go to visit our neighbours because I feel so bad,” says Atong, 15.
Rachel Ayuen, a teacher in South Sudan says, “We mostly have low attendance when the girls experience their monthly cycle. Even if they are in class, they fear to interact freely.”
When I first started my monthly cycle, I did not know anything.
To address the issue, Plan International supplies girls with re-usable sanitary pads so they can confidently manage their periods and don’t feel like they have to take time off school.
“We have experienced better attendance since many of the girls can rely on the pads even if they don’t have any money,” says Rachel.
Refugee girls support each other
We are also working in South Sudan’s refugee camps to help girls manage their periods.
Monica, 17, is a member of a Plan International-supported children’s club in a South Sudanese refugee camp. She has lived in the camp since 2013 when her family was forced to flee their home in Bor after it came under attack during the civil war.
At the children’s club, she mentors younger children and passes on her experiences around menstrual hygiene. “When I first started my monthly cycle, I did not know anything,” she says. “So I went to my mother who gave me some pads and taught me how to use them.”
Monica advises younger girls about what to expect when their period begins and gives simple instructions on how to deal with it. “When you wake up in the morning and realise that your monthly cycle has begun, take a shower and put on clean knickers and pads,” she says.
The mentoring programme has been set up in the camp by Plan International to encourage open discussions to break down stigmas surrounding menstrual hygiene. In addition, we have constructed 56 latrines in the camp so girls can manage their periods in a private and hygienic environment.