Thacienne was considered one of the brightest students in her class until she was forced to drop out of school at just eleven years old.
In Rwanda 35% of children are withdrawn from school early by families who cannot afford the fees, books, uniforms and lunches. But for girls there is yet another barrier: menstruation.
Despite similar enrolment numbers between boys and girls at primary level, dropout rates are higher for girls at secondary school. This is often due to school environments not being girl friendly. Toilet facilities are frequently unsafe, unlockable and unsanitary. As a result, many girls stay at home during their periods where they have facilities to wash their sanitary towels safely, hygienically, and without harassment. Others, like Thacienne, leave school altogether once they start having periods, because their families cannot afford sanitary towels.
Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day, and this year’s theme is Menstruation Matters. It is simply unacceptable that menstruation is a barrier to education for so many young girls. Giving girls the facilities they need to manage their menstruation really does matter, and it has a big impact on their education.
We are working with schools in Rwanda to support girls, and provide the facilities they need to attend school. A key part of this has been building secure girls toilets and changing rooms, with access to soap, handwashing facilities, and sanitary towels. These facilities are proving very popular with girls! The toilets also turn sanitised waste into fertiliser for school gardens, which are used to grow nutritious vegetables for school lunches, and provide an income for the parents who manage them.
We are continuing to spread the word about the importance of girl’s education. Thacienne’s parents arranged her return to school after watching a popular theatre roadshow supported by Health Poverty Action. On her return Thacienne discovered the safe new toilet and changing facilities at her school.
“The girls’ changing room has everything that girls need during their menstruation period. This motivated me to go back to school, and ever since I’ve never missed classes!”
To ensure this project has a long term and wide reaching impact, we have worked closely with the Ministry of Education in Rwanda – anyone who builds girls changing rooms in Rwanda now has to build them to standards developed by Health Poverty Action. We have also secured ongoing government funding for the upkeep of the facilities – including the provision of sanitary towels!
Thacienne is now 16 and says,
“My dream is to pursue higher education and work for a charity.”
There is still a long way to go before menstrual hygiene is completely removed as a barrier to education, but change has started with inspirational girls like Thacienne. We hope our work will help even more girls manage their periods alongside education, and reach their full potential in the future.