Sanitation is dignity. We come from a culture where we have never had sanitary kit samples or well designed packages. Menstruation was a personal and private matter and you were to seek your own solutions. Now we have factories developing kits for us. Now we have a choice. Having a choice is one of the highest forms of empowerment.
By Sahro Ahmed Koshin, World Pulse Community Board Member Somalia.
Introduction and background:
The CARE-led EU-funded Waxbarashada Waa Iftiin (WWI) Education project works closely with the Gender Unit of the Ministry of Education in Puntland, Somalia. The project strives, among others, to contribute to the overall achievement of one of the global goals of education; gender equity towards empowerment, this is in line with Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). WWI aims to address issues affecting girls education in Somalia so as to enhance girls’ participation in education by ensuring that more girls enroll in school, stay in school long enough to complete a full cycle of education. The provision of sanitary kits and the necessary training on life skills and health issues is one way through which the project envisages to achieve this. WWI is the first project of its kind in Puntland to disseminate reusable hygienic sanitary kits to a large number of school girls reaching out to all the regions in Puntland. Over 2000 school girls have been trained on life skills, hygiene, health matter.
Between November of 2013 and January of 2014 the Gender Unit in close collaboration with the CARE-led WWI team visited over 20 schools throughout Puntland where they conducted a 2-day training in the schools. Following the trainings was the dissemination of over 2000 reusable sanitary kits to the same girls in the same schools.
This article discusses how the life skills training workshops combined with the dissemination of sanitary kits have been received by the students, the school and the communities we visited. The article brings to light the correlation between the provision of reusable sanitary kits to female students in secondary schools and its impact on the education and even participation as well as performance of girls in both and class and schools in Puntland. It will argue that the regular provision of clean, hygienic and sustainable reusable sanitary kits to school girls in secondary school will indeed benefit them in so many ways than one. This article will dismantle, decipher and demystify how exactly reusable sanitary kits benefit young girls in schools. It will portray the voices of the users and show concrete examples of how the provision of regular clean, hygienic and sustainable sanitary kits to girls has boosted up their self-confidence, their attendance in school and even their active participation in schools and in communities at large.
How does menstruation impact the education of Somali girls in Somalia?
It is important to consider the effects of menstruation on the education of Somali girls living in Somalia. Any intervention would in such a program would have to build around the recommendations given in my article on what girls and women think are solutions "The perceptions and effects of menstruation on the education of girls and in Somalia”, to be found here http://genderissuesinsomalia.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/the-effects-of-men...,
We have seen a trend which shows that the number of Somali girls continuing their education past primary decreases by every level of education. Adolescent girls have very little information about menstruation before they experience their first menstruation and this ignorance leads to various reactions including worry, shyness, embarrassment and nervousness. Another significant finding is the lack of adequate education about hygiene management of menstruation and the provision of facilities for disposal of menstrual materials. This leads to menstruation tampons litter in school toilets or even between the streets.Very few girls enroll in secondary schools. Early marriage, maturation and menstruation issues affect girls between the ages of 11-14 years, forcing them to leave school. Girls that do enroll and attend school, leave classes at the beginning of their menstrual cycles because they cannot afford to buy sanitary towels. On average a Somali girl is absent 5 days a month and multiplying this by the number of months that school is open significantly amounts to almost to about 45 days a year. They are forced to keep away from school to avoid the embarrassment caused by lack of proper hygiene kits for use during this time, as well as the limited awareness that this is a normal development phase in their lives. Many girls are afraid of leaking at school and staining their uniforms Absenteeism becomes the order of the day whenever menstrual periods show up and this is exacerbated. Somali girls lose many hours of lessons in a month resulting into poor performance and repeating of classes, lowered their self-esteem and morale for education and eventually leading to drop out of school.
Why provide sanitary kits to girls in school? What are the benefits of the sanitary kits?
WWI seeks to enhance girls’ participation in education and to retain them in school. It hopes to achieve this through the provision of sanitary kits to vulnerable girls in 20 secondary schools. It is envisaged that provision of girls with locally appropriate, reusable sanitary kits, including sanitary napkins, petticoat, three pants and soap will enable girls’ access school during their menstrual cycle. This will further be complemented by the girl-friendly spaces to be constructed in these schools. School girls have been trained on life skills and health issues so to enable them deal with low self esteem, lack of confidence, unassertiveness, inability to make decisions, negotiate and speak out, self control, leadership skills as well as self cleanliness as a way to avert menstruation related infections.
The benefits of the sanitary kits is incalculable. First of all, according to the girls the absenteeism /high dropout rates decreased as this was the case in all of the run schools. There is no longer a reason for the girls / women to miss classes during menstruation. Secondly, the girls’ self esteem has also been boosted as girls are not embarrassed during menses and this has translated to improved performance in their studies. Thirdly, the way this particular sanitary kits have been designed also contribute to the high self confidence; the underwear is equipped with a pocket where the pad/towel is to be securely placed so that it wont easily fall out when in movement. The sanitary kits are designed with the active school girl in mind. This means that girls can confidently take part in sports and or walk about with a feeling of self confidence. Fourthly because the kit has 6 pads and 2-4 pants, female students have enough pants and towels to carry with them to school. They can easily be carried in schoolbag and change towels whenever they need to. Fifthly the kit comes with a bar soap, washing powder and a user guide all of which make contribute to the quality of the kits. Finally, many women and girls are involved in the making of these sanitary kits. The sanitary kits are manufactured by The Galkayo Education Centre for Peace Development (GECPD) in Galkayo and the girls involved in the production of the sanitary kits are the graduates of tailoring skills training course offered at the same institute. The engagement of these girls in the production of the kits has enabled them to earn some income from their skills to support their families. They are paid on the basis of the number of pieces each woman produces whereby some are able to make as much as $100 per month.
How exactly do the sanitary kits look like and how much do they cost?
GECPD produces the reusable sanitary kit at USD 6.50 per kit and at USD 5.50 for bulk orders. The usual process of delivery is once you order the kit it takes about a week to make the kits. The sanitary kits this used in this activity were manufactured by GECPD and the materials are locally sourced, which is another advantage. Another advantage worthy of been mentioned is that the kits were designed with the active female student in mind. The pocket underneath the underwear secures the towel and makes sure that it doesn't fall out. Furthermore the materials are easily washed and doesn't allow staining. In addition Below are pictures of the kits.
What is the general community’s attitude about the sanitary kits?
After and during the training workshops as well during the dissemination of the kits, the Gender Unit inquired from the girls and collected information so as to understand the impact of the project. Although the exercise is still ongoing, it can be stated that communities in which the schools are located welcomed the initiative. They understand the benefits of the sanitary kits and welcomed the delegation with open arms. The exercise sought to answer three important questions; whether the beneficiaries were satisfied with the kits, whether it was helpful to them in terms of their personal hygiene, health and dignity and whether they felt there was a need for the continuation of the project. Most of the girls contributed to the discussion and felt that the kits were was very useful. They said that the sanitary pads had changed their lives and helped them maintain and restore their dignity. The girls also said that the kits will last longer because they can be used over and over again.
How do Girl-friendly Spaces in Somalia contribute to the success of the sanitary kit?
The presence of Girl-friendly spaces in secondary school also contribute to the success of the sanitary kits. To begin with girls can store their kits and towels in the private spaces if need. Because of the very high privacy, good sanitation and hygiene of the GFS, the girls, as they explained, can conveniently change their towels with much confidence and ease. Thirdly because of the running water in these spaces, the girls can easily wash and dry their soiled towels and underwear or even uniforms in case of eventual leaking. Bulk storage of the reusable sanitary kits can also take place in the GFS. The GFS as we have seen in my earlier article entitled 'The use and benefits of GFS spaces in Somalia', the presence of GFS spaces in secondary schools have boosted up the attendance and participation as well as even performance of the female students. These pictures reflect these conclusions; https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/110742359402557784459/albums/57360563...
Conclusion and recommendations
The Ministry of Education in Puntland with support from the WWI project has disseminated hygienic sanitary tool kits to over 2000 school girls throughout Puntland which consisted of materials such as pads, underwear, soap as well as a bag which the girls would use to keep a sanitary material for use while at school. The WWI project has contributed significantly to the sensitization of the girl-child on the importance of education and has trained girls on how to handle sexual reproductive health challenges through tailor-made and culture sensitive life skills trainings, it has supported school girls with the provision of sanitary kits and this has boosted up girls self-confidence and attendance. The enrollments rates, retention and successful completion rates at a national level need to be assessed and studied more thoroughly. Therefore, a longer term project implementation approach is crucial and might provide the opportunity to consolidate any gains towards better assessment of the projects impact on girl child education and girls' dignity. The project needs to be expanded, many other girls that the project did not reach also are in dire of proper sanitary wear to boost their self esteem and dignity. The Gender Unit advocates that every secondary school should have a GFS and must contain sanitary kits for the students to use.
The income generating aspect of the sanitary kits at GECPD where they are manufactured is also an empowerment aspect to women whereby the ones involved in production are economically empowered. This in turn gives women authority and decision making in their households as well as recognition by the community. Lastly, there is need for the government of Puntland to intervene and continue supporting the cause started by NGOs in implementing these programs especially in rural schools. Most NGO programs are limited by financial resources and NGOs provide temporary solutions to long-term problems; once the project end, the problem re-emerges.