Girl Showers – Providing Accessible Education to Girls and Boys Alike

by ACT

  • Posted on January 20, 2017

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Pens, books, whiteboards, and desks – all things necessary and conducive to an effective schooling environment. And for a menstruating girl, so too is the provision of water and sanitation facilities.

Without safe water, sanitation, and hygiene provisions, access to education will never be truly equal. In Malawi only 13 per cent of girls go to secondary school after primary, and 37 per cent finish primary school with poor performance.

A major reason for this is the absence of menstrual health and hygiene education provided to the girls. Further, the lack of sufficient sanitation facilities at schools causes many girls to abstain during menstruation. With the typical pubescent female spending a quarter of the year menstruating, that’s a lot of education to miss.

Education is a fundamental human right, one that ought to be accessible to all, regardless of gender.

The African Child Trust has launched the Ulemu Project in order to reduce the dropout rate of girls in Malawi’s schools, reduce failure rates and improve academic performance. The project is being carried out alongside the Girl Leadership Empowerment Programme (GILEP) – an ACT partner and community based organization.

We still have a long way to go, but with your donations to date, we have been able to achieve an unprecedented amount. Between April 2015 and October 2016 we were able to conduct a pilot project involving two schools – Namphungo Community Day Secondary School and Khombwe Community Day Secondary School – in the Phalombe District in south east Malawi. The pilot set out to test a training programme for girls – the ‘Girl Shower’ – to teach girls about menstrual health issues, hygiene, career planning and human rights, among others.

Participants to the second Girl Shower at Namphungo Community Day Secondary School pose for a group photograph during the shower

Participants to the second Girl Shower at Namphungo Community Day Secondary School pose for a group photograph during the shower

The aim was to build the confidence of the girls, debunk damaging traditional myths and taboos and teach them about the importance of education. Each child was also provided with a pack containing underwear and re-useable sanitary pads, which most of the girls did not normally have access to.

Myson Jambo, of Corps Africa, ran a workshop with the girls on peer mentoring. He took the girls through the meaning and essence of mentoring and the impacts it can have in the community. With Myson’s help, the girls learnt how to become ambassadors for the Ulemu Project and successfully pass on the vital knowledge they have gained to other girls in their community.

Myson Jambo showcasing how the reusable sanitary pad works using a no-sew pant at a Girl Shower in Namphungo.

Another facet of the pilot was the provision of training for women in the community – mothers, grandmothers and guardians, known as ‘Mother Groups’ across Namphungo and Khombwe – most of whom are unemployed. The women received training in life skills including hygiene, health and HIV/Aids awareness, and leadership and business skills. They were also trained to use a sewing machine and taught to make underwear and reusable sanitary pads, which were distributed to girls of menstrual age at the community secondary school.

The GILEP Director hands over a sewing machine to Rose Patrick, Village Headwoman Namate.

The GILEP Director hands over a sewing machine to Rose Patrick, Village Headwoman Namate.

The project provided a sewing machine, scissors, tools and tailoring materials for this purpose. A centre was set up, keeping the sewing machine and other tailoring tools and materials in safe storage.

For a small rental fee, the women are able to use the sewing machine and tailoring tools for personal business and income generation. Funds raised from these rentals will be used by the Mother Groups to purchase additional sewing machines.

Sampling the sewing machine after it was presented and assembled during the handover ceremony at Namphungo Ulemu Women Centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These projects had an overwhelming effect that we hope can be rolled out across other communities. In Khombwe:

• School attendance of female improved markedly compared to the same period in the previous year.
• The total number of girls who dropped out of school across all year groups was 6, down from 11 in the previous year.
• Early marriages and premarital pregnancies were reduced to 5, compared to 9 in the previous year.
• 9 girls sat the National Form 4 final year exams which a 100% pass rate compared to a 67% pass rate in the previous year.
• 245 mothers and guardians received training in life skills, such as the use of sewing machines.
• A sewing Centre has been established and equipped with a sewing machine and other tailoring tools.
• The mothers sewed 63 individual packs containing 3 pairs of underwear and reusable pads which were distributed to the 50 girls at Khombwe Community Day Secondary School and other girls in the community.

ACT carried out a monitoring visit to the Centre in November 2016, with both men and women from the community in attendance. They expressed that, despite some initial scepticism, they felt positive about the project and the opportunities it has provided for the women in the community.

We would love to be able to extend this life-enriching and dignity-providing project across the rest of the country and, as always, your assistance is vital for this. Take a look at our donations page to see how you can help with the Ulemu Project.

Make a difference to a young girls’ life here.


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