Consequently, many adolescent girls find themselves unprepared for their periods and how to manage them. Staggeringly, less than 50% of girls in low- and middle-income countries have access to basics such as sanitary towels or tampons, soap and water, or facilities to change, clean, or dispose of hygiene products.
In rural areas, the statistics are far worse. One factor in keeping girls out of school is known to be the cost of hygiene products. Almost unthinkably, of those who do attend school, many will have to use old rags, dried leaves, grass or paper – sometimes even tearing pages from school books – in lieu of sanitary towels. Such improvisation frequently leads to the contraction of menstrual diseases.
The stigma surrounding menstruation, lack of understanding, and the unaffordability of hygiene products, all leave girls feeling that they have to stay at home. They miss out on 25% of their education and, in many cases, drop out altogether.
In Uganda, IRT is working together with Wessex Social Ventures and our local partners, Organisation for Community Action, to tackle this appalling situation through a scheme known as ‘Petal’. Under Petal, micro-enterprises produce affordable, reusable sanitary towels that are made and sold by local women. In addition, Petal delivers free, menstrual health education to women and men of all ages, with the aim of eradicating social stigmas.
Petal brings numerous benefits to the community, the customer and the entrepreneur. At community level, women and girls are no longer isolated during menstruation. Girls are able to complete their schooling without interruption. This is critical because, over the long term, education is crucial to lifting communities out of poverty. For the customer, packs can be as little as 10% of the cost of alternatives.
For the entrepreneur, Petal provides a source of sustainable income, enabling them to afford healthcare and schooling for their children. The scheme also empowers women, training them to lead small businesses and developing valuable skills. IRT believes that it is a human right to have access to adequate menstrual hygiene, and is committed to continuing to fund and spread the Petal scheme in Uganda.