Keeping girls in school

There is approximately over 4 million school going girls between the ages of 6– 20 in Malawi. Of these, 40% do not go to school for one week per month while they are menstruating, which is 3 months in a year, and this makes them fall behind in class and sometimes even drop out of school altogether. The reason for this is that they have no means to acquire sanitary wear.
Natasha through Mama Africa Foundation Trust (MAFT) is implementing Project for school going girls in rural and peri-urban areas which aims to produce and provide underwear and reusable sanitary wear to school-going girls from underprivileged and vulnerable families for free. Recognizing that many of these girls have limited access to health education, the project also provide sexual reproductive health education to the targeted girls and young women.

These girls also lack access to health education/ sexual reproductive health (SRH) programs and are susceptible to abuse and sexual transmitted diseases.

CAMPAIGN OBJECTIVES

The main objectives of the program are:
- to improve school attendance among girls between the ages of 10 and 20 years in both primary and secondary schools;
- to increase access to vulnerable adolescent girls with sanitary towels and comprehensive menstrual hygiene management, knowledge and risk awareness of HIV&AIDS among in-school and out of school girls between the ages 10 to 15 years;
- to improve their self-esteem
to increase access to sexual reproductive health education programs.
- Guidance and counseling
Reduce cases of child/early marriage.
- To ensure girls don't drop out of school due to lack of sanitary wear.
- Advocacy, creating awareness of sexuality by breaking the cultural barriers surrounding menstruation.

HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED

The objectives were reached through the campaign innovation’s.

CAMPAIGN INNOVATIONS

Designing, manufacturing and distribution of free reusable sanitary pads to keep girls in school; raising awareness and Advocating through media and community out reaches; putting boys and men in the forefront to support the girl - hence promoting he for she campaign;
involvement of religious and traditional leaders to help stop some traditional practices that encourage little girls to be married the reason that puts girls at risk of sexual exploitation, child trafficking, child labor, child prostitution, abuse, maternal death, HIV/AIDS infection and fistula just to mention a few; raising awareness to parents, guardians, traditional and religious leaders and girls themselves; teaching targeted girls about puberty and menstruation.

CAMPAIGN IMPACT

Reduced cases of school absentenism and dropouts among adolescents school going girls.
- The washable pads has a life span of up to five years. This also reduces and addresses the global challenge of waste management services and landfills as compared to disposable sanitary pads which also contain chemicals and are not biodegradable hence, polluting the environment, contrary to the washable pads which are made of cloth and are environmental friendly.
- Reduced cases of child marriages.
- Reduced cases of fistula and maternal deaths among the young women.
- Contribution to zero new HIV infections since the girls are encouraged to delay their sexual debut.
- Girls who Dropped out of school are encouraged to go back to school.
- Through the campaign parents are responding positively and are more careful how they treat a girl child for instance in cases of financial challenges as in the past a girl child was never preferred over a boy to go to school at the expense of the boy.

CHALLENGES FACED

- Cultural sensitivities around sex and sexuality which constrain girls from opening up and discussing sexual challenges affecting them.
- Limited number of female teachers in rural areas who are critical in facilitating the uptake of the project product.
- Misconceptions on menstruation, reusable sanitary pads, myths surrounding menstruation, and cultural barriers due to ignorance/illiteracy and cultural briefs.
- The project is self-funded and Natasha faces many challenges in as far as implementing the campaign is concerned.
- Unavailability of of material locally for making the reusable sanitary pads.
- Instability in the local economy of Malawi which has led to massive devaluation rendering imported goods very expensive.
- Intercultural dialogue and breaking the taboos and cultural barriers surrounding menstruation.

LESSONS LEARNT

According to the information I gathered from an exclusive interview Natasha Annie Tonthola did on TV by Philip Caetano Da Costa of Zodiak Broadcasting Station (TV/Radio) producer, presenter and Journalist) in Lilongwe, the lessons She has learnt in her line of work include the following:
- Knowing how to civic educate people of different culture and beliefs in as far as her work is concerned
- Learnt how to interact/ take part in intercultural dialogue with people from different places in Malawi.
- How to deal and cope with the challenges the campaign is facing.