60% of Kenyan girls drop out of secondary school. While we usually recognise that this is devastating for individual girls, we often ignore that girls missing school has a big impact on society as a whole, particularly on our economy and the health of the young children born to these girls later on in life.
HOW DOES GIRLS DROPPING OUT OF SCHOOL IMPACT OUR FUTURES?
Dropping out of school leaves girls without crucial skills like reading and writing, and significantly reduces how much money they can earn in the future. The World Bank estimates that if every girl in Kenya were to graduate from secondary school, there would be a 46% increase in country GDP (Gross Domestic Profit) across her lifetime.
If girls go on to become mothers, a better education will mean that their children will be healthier. USAID data found that a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of five.
These are striking facts.
WHY DO KENYAN GIRLS DROP OUT OF SCHOOL ONCE THEY START THEIR PERIOD?
Girls miss school when they are on their period because they do not have access to the products they need to manage their periods hygienically and comfortably. This is called period poverty. A UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) report found that 10% of sub-Saharan African girls miss school whilst on their periods. Falling behind on schoolwork can make it seem like dropping out of school completely is the only choice.
According to research by Zana Africa, about 8 out of every 10 Kenyan Class 7 girls need financial help to be able to access menstrual hygiene products. The founder of Zana Africa, Megan White Mukuria, has witnessed Kenyan girls attempting to make pads with rough materials like newspaper, and even chicken feathers. This is both uncomfortable and unhygienic, and could lead to infection or other serious health problems.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO COMBAT THIS PROBLEM?
There are organisations all across Africa which are working on this. Be sure to keep a look out on projects which include:
Education workshops in schools
Educational magazines to explains body changes in puberty, what a period actually is, and healthy relationships.
Menstrual hygiene product drives, where you can get free tampons and sanitary pads.
Studies have shown that access to pads and education helps girls stay in school. In one trial, teenage girls from four villages in Ghana were given sanitary pads and puberty education at school and after 5 months there was a 9% increase in their school attendance.
Access to pads and education specifically about their periods can make a real change in a very small space of time.
Ensuring access to menstrual hygiene products so that girls can go to school is important for everyone in society. If girls are educated, society becomes wealthier and healthier.