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Tanzania: Our Girls Deserve Affordable Pads in School

ARDENT news readers, viewers and listeners have in the recent past be educated on the importance of giving our school girls pads during their menstrual periods.

So far, stakeholders’ nationwide campaigns to provide affordable sanitary towels to women and girls in Tanzania have proved positive results. More women in Tanzania shall be able to access sanitary towels because the Value Added Tax (VAT), has been scrapped, so these kits shall now sell at a cheaper price.

While reading the 2018/2019 National Budget in Parliament last year, the Minister for Finance Dr Phillip Mpango said the government was determined to enabling more women access these towels at cheaper prices during their menstrual periods.

We should recall how TGNP Mtandao has in the past played a great role in sensitisation campaigns aimed at preventing girls from missing out on education during their menstruation periods.

By ensuring sanitary pads are available in schools. In the recent past, TGNP Mtandao has been educating women Members of Parliament of all political parties on the link between the high absentee rate of girls in schools and the lack of menstrual hygiene products.

For many girls, the cost of sanitary pads is so high that they are unaffordable to some.

The government’s move shall definitely help them access these sanitary gears. A research done last year showed that without access to sanitary products, girls in rural areas don’t go to school on average of five days each month, when they are menstruating.

The deputy speaker of the national assembly of Tanzania, Hon. Dr Tulia Ackson is a hero here, because she has participated in the TGNP education session and on several occasions she pledged “to solve the problem starting by setting tax charges that will be allocated to cover the expense of having sanitary pads in schools”. She was convinced that having the pads is one thing.

But the society needs to ensure that the budget looks on the availability of water in schools. To ensure a better hygiene for girls, and that reality is slowly being put into practice.

TGNP and other organizations have been advocating for schools to have a special teacher and exchange room for girls to help them during the monthly cycle days.

This should now be realized, and this will set a comfortable environment for girls to study peacefully. Private philanthropists also deserve credit for providing schools of their choices with free sanitary towels.

I think Tanzania urgently needs proper policies about menstruation and sanitary towels that will help the country’s hygiene of girls and young women.

Neighbouring Kenya is an example here, because that country provides some guidance in this regard: In one of that country’s major informal settlements, Kiandutu, the state broadcasting corporation introduced and led a campaign that donated sanitary towels to adolescent girls every month for a year.

There are a few ways for Tanzania to tackle this important issue proactively, though the VAT on pads has been removed.

For instance, the country should start looking at low-cost local production methods for sanitary towels. In fact, imports cost money and this might make any programme unsustainable in the long term.

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TGNP Mtandao Executive Director, Mrs Lilian Liundi once told me that if the government works with vocational and training colleges, it could deal with two issues – the need for cheap but hygienic sanitary towels and the need to create jobs.

She is optimistic that poor, unemployed women could be taught to make these products.

Indeed, Tanzania parliamentarians deserve a credit for displaying a political will in these affordable sanitary pads agenda. Policymakers and education practitioners should push for a special fund that will support nationwide free sanitary towels.

Of course it is not menstrual issues alone that keep girls out of school, and work is needed in other areas to ensure that attendance improves.

A proper, politically backed policy is crucial if the country is really serious about keeping girls in school and not letting a biological fact of life hold them back. Informal urban settlements are increasingly common in Tanzania, as they are in many African countries.

There is often minimal sanitation and low levels of hygiene in such settlements, as they are overcrowded and lack formal infrastructure. Researchers have pointed out that many reproductive infections are potentially triggered by poor menstrual hygiene management.

These diseases can, if left unchecked, make women more vulnerable to complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and as these settlements grow, so does the demand for schooling in and around them.

In Dar es Salaam’s Manzese informal settlement for instance, there are more than 25 primary and secondary schools.

Some of these are surrounded by congested makeshift houses with poor drainage systems. Most of the schools have very few toilets or latrines-certainly not enough for all pupils and teachers.

In reality, while parents don’t have to pay tuition fees, they do bear the costs of things like textbooks, uniforms and bus fare.

The country’s free education programme doesn’t consider the issue of menstrual health, and providing these towels is a key way to keep girls in school, as research from neighbouring Kenya has proved.

This is a matter of some concern for our authorities and education experts, that the dropout rate among girls is high, with many never enrolling in secondary school.

The fact is most girls in rural primary schools who have reached puberty do not use appropriate sanitary wear during their monthly menstrual.

These girls are at times forced to use local pads, which may include rags, raw cotton and and even maize cobs, and due to water shortage in most rural schools, washing of re-usable pads poses a serious challenge.

TGNP Mtandao deserve credit for taking action to prevent girls from missing out on education during their menstruation periods by ensuring sanitary pads are available for our girls.

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