Lack of funds has been attributed to the delay in the fulfillment of President Museveni’s 2016 campaign pledge to provide free sanitary pads to all school going girls.
According to the Minister for Presidency Esther Mbayo, although government made a commitment to provide free sanitary pads to all girls in school, the education sector lacks adequate resources to undertake key programs due to budget cuts the ministry has experienced over the last three years.
In a statement she read to parliament on Wednesday on the status of the presidential pledge which was part of the NRM manifesto for 2016-2021, unless other means are sought soon, the reason the pledge was meant to cure could still remain.
During the 2016 presidential campaigns, President Museveni committed that government will provide free sanitary pads to all school going adolescent girls in order to solve the menstrual challenges the girls face which are attributed to high school dropout rates for girls in Uganda.
Mbayo said since then, implementation of the presidential pledges have been mainstreamed into central budgets in which specific pledges fall, and the budget cuts to the education sector have adversely affected implementation of the pledge.
She said the manifesto commitment to provide sanitary pads to school girls is hinged upon the president’s constitutional duty to promote citizen’s welfare especially school going girls who are most vulnerable to dropping out of school due to menstrual related challenges.
The dropout rates of girls in Uganda remain higher compared to that of boys in upper primary and lower secondary due to lack of supportive infrastructure in most schools including clean lavatories, changing rooms, water for washing, proper and hygienic sanitary ware to enable adolescent girls to effectively manage their menstrual cycle and related challenges. Consequently adolescent girls are forced to resort to unhygienic substitutes such as rags, pieces of foam mattress, toilet paper, banana fibers which causes considerable health risks and absenteeism.
Studies have showed that one in ten menstruating girls skips four to ten days in a month, or completely drop out. On average a menstruating girl loses 13 learning days equivalent to two weeks of learning, and 104 hours of school every school term. According to available reports, around 23 percent of adolescent girls aged 12 to 18 drop out of school after beginning menstruation. The reports also show that on average, girls lose 24 days a year due to menstruation. The most affected are adolescent girls in rural and hard to reach areas.
As a measure to mitigate this challenge, the mister said that the Ministry of Education sent out circulars to all schools in 2015 to ensure provision of emergency sanitary pads to girls undergoing menstruation, prioritized interventions like construction of sanitation and hygiene facilities at schools, and ensure development of age-appropriate information packages to be disseminated in media; and training of learners in making re-usable sanitary pads using locally available materials.
However, she said the initiative lacks adequate parental support since many parents have not taken menstrual products as basic requirement yet the Education Act 2008 empowers all parents to provide them to their daughters.
She said the government has also partnered with several Civil Society Organization’s including Plan International, AfriPAD and the Uganda Red Cross to pilot interventions to provide sanitary pads to girls in different districts across the country, and hopes to learn from these initiatives as it mobilizes resources to scale up the interventions to all schools in future.
The minister requested parliament to use its powers and allocate a specific recurrent budget to the sector to cater for sanitary pads, advocate for tax exemption on sanitary pads to reduce on the cost and make them affordable to parents.
Hon Cecilia Ogwal however said the minister’s statement lacked specific and relevant to parliament and she should go back and bring specific funding requirements to affect the presidential pledge to ensure that the initiative is considered for funding in the next financial year.