Menstrual health of schoolgirls under the spotlight
Close to 30% of the schoolgirls said menstrual challenges affected their school performance.
In addition, Ayesha Wentworth, director of programmes and quality assurance at the education ministry, recently cautioned that “all our attention cannot only be focused on girls' needs. The University of Namibia (Unam) has conducted studies that show we are leaving the boys behind – they also need hygienic products.”
Focus on sanitary needs
She made this statement shortly after the deputy education minister, Faustina Caley, objected to a motion in parliament to provide free sanitary products to schoolgirls.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani expressed his dissatisfaction with Caley's rejection of his motion in parliament on Wednesday. Caley allegedly opposed Venaani's motion based on the fact that the Basic Education Act already provides for it.
"The law provides discretion to the minister to implement this project, and we want a framework to be established for its implementation rather than leaving it to the minister's discretion," Venaani said.
Caley said the ministry had already budgeted N$439 385 for the provision of dignity packs, which were distributed to 1 480 students in the Kavango and Ohangwena regions. The packs contain toiletries and hygiene products such as sanitary wipes and deodorant.
Wentworth acknowledged that the implementation of the project didn't go as smoothly as the ministry had hoped. However, she believes this simply means that stakeholders need to ensure that the issues are resolved. "It's not perfect, but the schools are getting it right," she said.
According to her, the main reason for schoolgirls' absence is due to menstruation and not a lack of sanitary products. She believes that schoolgirls frequently miss school due to cramps and other health issues associated with menstruation.
"We will have to look at other health issues and reevaluate how it makes a difference," Wentworth said.
She said the ministry relies on research conducted by the United Nations (UN) in collaboration with the government in 2022 to assess menstrual health and hygiene among students.
The research showed that nearly half (45.3%) of the girls who were part of the study group felt that the facilities for hygiene and menstrual management in their schools were inadequate.
Just over 70% of the girls who participated in the research said they did not receive treatment for health problems associated with menstruation because there were not enough systems in place.
Among the group, 27.1% said menstrual challenges hindered their school performance.
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