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Sanitary pads: Janet faces criticism over broken promise

Education minister, also First Lady Janet Kataaha Museveni has come under severe criticism over government's failure to provide sanitary towels to school girls.

In the run up to the last presidential campaigns, President Yoweri Museveni who was seeking and controversially won a fifth presidential term, promised to provide sanitary pads, computers and text books to students if reelected back in office. It was expected that the promise would come to fruition in FY 2017/18.

Speaking at a campaign rally at Alira primary school in Akura sub-county, Alebtong district on November 12, 2015 President Museveni said:

“I want all our daughters to attend school and remain there until they complete their studies. One of the reasons that force our daughters out of school, is that when their periods start, they do not have sanitary pads. When they are in class, they soil their dresses. So they run away from school.”

But, appearing before a parliamentary committee on education last month to discuss the FY 2017/18 Shs 2.6 trillion sector budget last month, Mrs Museveni told MPs that funding for the purchase of sanitary towels was not available. A packet of quality sanitary towels goes for about Shs 4,000.

Education minister Janet Museveni

Now, women rights activists are angry at Mrs Museveni for failing to task her husband to keep his campaign promise. Flavia Kalule Nabagabe, an activist with Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Ugandan Chapter says the young people feel let down by the president and the minister of education.

She says that the pledge by the president raised hope for thousands of school-going girls who are forced to stay away from school because they cannot afford sanitary towels.
 
“It is very absurd that we have a minister of education, a mother at that; a woman to make matters worse - who has gone through monthly periods and knows the pain, [knows] how terrible it is when you don’t have sanitary pads to come out openly on national television and tell the entire country how the government [has no money for pads]. [That] the president makes promises and they can’t fulfil this promise to the so many young girls out there. During campaigns, so many young girls were given hope by this promise, by these words coming from the source of authority”, Nabagabe said.

Referring to a study of menstrual management by SNV in Uganda, Nabagabe says that without the sanitary towels, girls in rural areas will continue missing up to eight days of study each school term because of the monthly menses.
 
“By the way, the country has just noted that the health budget is not going to be increased [and] the government is not doing anything about it. And this is a critical health issue. If we have so many leaders that are not willing to nurture these young women, first of all by giving them psychological help on how to go through this menstrual periods and also to allocate resources to the area that brings about the highest school dropout rate because we all know that the government’s priorities are in the health budget. But if they are not willing to allocate resources to it, that means that we have leaders who no longer care for the highest percentage of their population”, she added.

The SNV study found failure by girls to attend class for eight days on average translates into 11 percent of the total learning days in a year.

Ida Horner, the founder of 'Let Them Help Themselves, an international aid organisation promoting sanitation and sanitary towels in south western Uganda, said the decision not to fund purchase of sanitary towels for students was regrettable. She says her organization visited 12 schools and spoke with 1,175 girls as well as some of their teachers.  She said the finding from the 12 schools were stunning.
 
Horner says 53 percent of the girls didn't know what menstruation was before they experienced it and that 61 percent of the girls have felt ashamed or embarrassed due to their periods.

42 percent of the girls interviewed said they missed 2.6 days of school during their periods because they don't have access to sanitary products which impacts negatively in their performance. Horner says 73 percent of the students used reusable pads but on average they changed them every 9 hours which was not hygienic or healthy.

Nabagabe and other activists say the government should make budgetary re-allocations in order to avail the sanitary towels to schools. The demand comes at the time when most of the ministries including that of education are facing 10 percent budgetary cuts.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd