Access to Education — by BJL

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF AN EDUCATION TO YOU? For me it is the freedom to choose, it gives me self-confidence and control over my life, and power to make change. I believe the gift of knowledge is priceless and in the words of Francis Bacon, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.  What a wonderful world if girls everywhere could read newspapers, laws of the land, or even documents they were required to sign, but there are many unnoticed barriers to literacy.

“Despite progress in recent years, girls continue to suffer severe disadvantage and exclusion in education systems throughout their lives. An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity: only two out of 35 countries”.[3]

I had the privilege a few months ago to interview a beautiful woman from Kenya with bright orange hair she died herself using Indian henna, her name is Rosemary Obara and she is impacting education for girls as we speak! Obara is the president of a “Days for Girls” in Kenya, Africa. She has been a teacher for over 20 years and noticed that health, education, and personal hygiene are not taught in schools. She recognized a trend that girls were dropping out and forfeiting their educational opportunities. And here’s why.  When adolescent girls start menstruation for the first time at school, they are often so humiliated that they will return home and sometimes never come back to school.

The majority of mothers are also unaware of monthly menstruation hygiene. Feathers or rags are most commonly used absorption materials, but it is hard to trust they will do their job. Like girls and women across the world, 16-year-old Joan is self-conscious about bleeding on her clothes during her period. But this teenager from Lira, Uganda can’t just run to the shop and buy more sanitary pads or tampons.[2]

“I used to use cloths that I would cut from my old T-shirts to keep the blood from staining my dresses, but they were not enough and blood would still stain my clothes,” Joan expressed, “Boys used to laugh at me when blood stained my clothes, and I eventually simply stayed home whenever my periods started.”[2]

Because of inadequate materials to manage their menstruation, Girls often miss up to two months’ worth of school if they don’t end up dropping out completely.

This is not an isolated problem. In Sierra Leone, more than a fifth of girls miss school because of their periods. In Afghanistan and Nepal, three out of 10 girls miss school for the same reason. The world cannot afford the cost of girls dropping out of school. If a girl attends school for the majority of seven years, she marries later and has fewer children. She’ll also be more likely to delay having sex, be less likely to be forced into sex, and, if she is sexually active, more likely to use contraception. An educated girl adds to a country’s GDP, and is essential for lifting her, her family and her community out of poverty.[2]

There is an organization that helps girls build reusable hygiene kits. Days For Girls provide kits that include reusable pads and the girls are taught how to clean and reuse them. Apart from providing girls with hygiene kits, Obara also teaches girls how to maintain their personal sanitation so they can continue going to school even when they are menstruating.

The positive impact of educating girls is no secret, and yet girls are still missing school due to completely preventable reasons. It’s a fact: girls get periods. But menstruation shouldn’t result in absences, and girls shouldn’t miss out on an education as a result.[2]

There are many privileges that I take advantage of everyday. But I have been given every opportunity to attend school and know its enabling power. Menstruation is obviously not the only obstacle to attending school, nor maybe even the largest concern for some girls, but it is something that can be improved and improved quickly and efficiently
—by BJL

 

References

[1] Days for Girls International. (2015). Retrieved from Days for Girls: http://www.daysforgirls.org

[2] That Time of the Month Shouldn’t Mean Missing School-Period. (2015, July 21). Retrieved from Girl Effect: http://www.girleffect.org/what-girls-need/articles/2015/05/that-time-of-the-month-shouldn-t-mean-missing-school-period/

[3] UNICEF. (2015, July 23). Basic education and gender equality. Retrieved from UNICEF: http://www.unicef.org/education/bege_70640.html

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3 thoughts on “Access to Education — by BJL

  1. Victoria says:

    This is so important! I don’t know that I would have ever connected the lack of access to sanitary pads as a barrier for women to attend school, but when I think about my childhood, it makes sense. Before I was old enough to know how to track my period, I would sometimes be surprised at school, and I was so embarrassed by the red stains on my jeans! I felt like everyone knew exactly why I was wearing my sweater around my waist! So it makes sense that even in cultures that don’t require seclusion during menstruation, that this would still be an issue if they don’t have reliable methods of taking care of their periods. Great post!

  2. Morgan Wills (@morgan_wills) says:

    Despite the ongoing rhetoric I’ve been hearing/reading about the importance of girls having ways to manage their menstruation at school in the past few years, it’s definitely still an issue, and I’m glad you wrote about it! Change seems to need a critical mass. Days for Girls seems awesome.

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