Because she was the tallest in class at age 13, the teacher called her to clean the chalkboard. But as she walked to the board, a red spot of blood, which was as a result of menstruation had formed on the rear side of her blue uniform and was visible to the whole class.
Boys were and girls alike burst into laughter. There was no water facility at the school, neither a safe space to accommodate her with her situation. Shortly later, the whole school had gathered, thereby forming a nickname, ‘MWEZI’, which followed her even in the community in which she lived.
Short of options, she was asked by the teacher to pack her bags and go home so she could clean herself.
This moment defined Flavia Adeke’s career path. She felt dropping out of school and subsequently getting married could substitute the vanity the nickname ‘Mwezi’ had robbed of her.
As she narrated this touching story left hundreds of people who had gathered for a conference on menstruation and Hygiene management day, emotionally spent. This was at Hotel Africana in Kampala on Wednesday 28th May 2019.
Flavia is one among thousands of girls around the world who drop out of school due to menstruation challenges.
Research shows that around 23% of adolescent girls in the age group of 12-18 drop out of school when they begin menstruation. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of silence around it, and the majority of adolescent girls are not adequately supported to manage their menstrual cycles effectively and with dignity.
While presiding over the function, the chief Hon. Chrysostom Muyingo, the state minister for higher education called for an urgent need to create a safe and enabling environment for girls exercise menstruation with dignity and respect.
“Menstruation is not a choice, we must not allow it to define any one’s future. The benefits of girls’ education go beyond higher economic productivity, and benefit the country” said Minister Muyingo.
Research shows that the onset of menstruation, which is the most dramatic sign of a girls’ puberty, affects their engagement in family and community activities and may have a significant impact on their education. More to Flavia’s story, a study done by IRC (2012) estimates that one in ten menstruating girls skips school four to five days in a month or completely drops out. A girl absent from school due to menstruation for four days of every 28-day cycle loses 13 learning days, the equivalent of two weeks of learning and 104 hours of school every school term.
During plenary discussions, Lydia Asiimwe, one of the attendees expressed optimism with the trend at which the country is now.
“Before menstruation used to be a private matter, now it’s a public debate. Seeing all these people, organizations and policymakers around, here demonstrates that we are in the right direction” Asiimwe explained.
Dr. Yususf Nsubuga, Urged parents to involve, both boys and girls in menstruation matters so they can begin to consider it as a normal occurrence.
“Boys and men need to be involved, they are the ones stigmatizing this it by sidelining girls during such times,” says Dr. Nsubuga as he presented a paper on men and boys involvement.
Earlier in the day, while visiting the minister Muyingo applauded UYAHF’s books before babies’ campaign, which aims to encourage girls to keep in schools among other sexual and reproductive health issues.
“I am particularly interested in your approach of going to schools to encourage girls to keep in school,” says Min Muyingo.
UYAHF believes that more educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labor market, earn more income, have fewer children, and provide better health care and education to their children. These benefits also transition across generations, as well as to communities at large.