Persistent absence from school is the major cause of lower achievement and poor progress in secondary education for most girls in Buhera District, Zimbabwe. Statistics show that boys have a higher full-attendance rate than girls. Some girls in Buhera miss school regularly, particularly during their menstruation cycle.
According to estimates of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about one in every ten school-age African girls didn’t attend school during menstruation or dropped out at puberty due to lack of cleanliness and separate toilet facilities for female students at schools.
Girls from our school used to struggle during menstruation. Most girls did not have sanitary wear, so it was common for some to miss school for even over a week. Most girls had no proper pants and sanitary wear, so we used cloths, and it was very uncomfortable. At one time, a girl from school was left embarrassed after the cloth fell in class and so most girls preferred to stay at home during their period than face the shame.Jennifer, 17, student from Mabvuragudo High School
In Buhera, girls face difficulty to manage their menstrual periods at school due to lack of sanitary wear and knowledge about hygiene management.
Jennifer,17, from Mabvuragudo High School says girls experienced different feelings including fear, shame, and guilt because of lack hygiene kits and prior information about menstruation hygiene.
Use of cloths often left the girls vulnerable to period shaming from boys, as most of them could not afford sanitary wear. Others had never used sanitary wear before.
This was compounded by lack of awareness by parents and guardians on the importance of sending girls to school due to many cultural norms and religious beliefs that promoted early marriages. Most of them were pushed by poverty.
According to Jennifer, due to poverty and the lack of essential learning materials, she also had to endure school breaks without food. Some girls went home and never came back to school.
With funding from and in partnership with the World Bank, CARE piloted the Social Protection and Wash Interventions to Keep Adolescent Girls in Schools in Zimbabwe. The project directly complemented the Government of Zimbabwe’s Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) fee waiver program, which pays school fees for vulnerable students in both primary and secondary schools. Under this project, WASH and social protection interventions were used to support adolescent girls grappling with the adverse effects of COVID-19 to return to and stay in school after several waves of school closure in Zimbabwe occurred.
While I received assistance from the government’s BEAM programme, my family struggled to make ends meet for us to have enough food, uniforms and other school requirements. It was hard to concentrate in school,said Jennifer.
Statistics also show that food insecurity is one of the major drivers of early marriages and absenteeism among adolescent girls. As such, through this World Bank-funded project CARE disbursed $35 USD monthly cash vouchers, through mobile cash transfers to beneficiary learners’ households for them to buy basic household needs, especially food and education-related materials such as uniforms and stationery.
Non-food items (NFIs) in the form of sanitary wear, bath soaps, undergarments and towels were also distributed to counter menstrual hygiene management — constraints that had caused absenteeism amongst adolescent girl learners.
The distributions were complemented with trainings of household heads around gender budgeting, positive parenting, and girl education-oriented household expenditure for enhanced project effectiveness.
Letwin, Mabvuragudo High School's Guiding and Counselling (GNC) teacher, says that the change has been very significant. Before the project, Letwin observed high rates of absenteeism and poor perfomance by students, especially among girls. For many parents, situations of poverty led to their children's education being under-prioritised.
“Children had so many squabbles in school and education was taken very lightly due to beliefs in the communities which did not value, particularly girls’ education, such as Kuzvarira (giving away of girls at birth for marriage or ritual fulfilment purposes). After the teaching and trainings on education, children now have a sense of togetherness. The provision of sanitary wear and financial assistance to their parents has also boosted their confidence and improved their socialization. Children no longer have to miss school or even go home during their period because the project has also enabled us to keep dignity kits including sanitary wear, blankets, pills, soap, towels among other essentials to assist the girls,” Letwin said.
Through weekly guidance and counselling sessions with students Letwin is also equipping students with knowledge on gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, child protection, menstrual hygiene management, among other topics.
Now things have changed through CARE's support with sanitary wear and cash assistance. I received 9 pants, 26 packets of pads, 10 bars of soap and I even shared these with my sister. I now have a proper uniform, and books to use and my family can now afford food for us to eat. It has boosted my confidence and I am not embarrassed to be among other students. Even other girls now attend school consistently because our parents can now also support us,Jennifer says.
The project also introduced village savings and loans associations (VSLAs), which are enabling parents to start income generating activities to keep their children in school.
“For sustainability purposes the project has disbursed Income Generating Activity (IGA) grants which are meant to see beneficiary households starting some income generating projects at household level so that the gains of the project are not lost once the project has lapsed,” said Ulilia Chamisa-Magombedze, CARE’s Humanitarian Lead and Project Manager in Zimbabwe.
Additionally, the project has initiated the process of establishing Community Pad Centers in operational communities so that even after the project has ended adolescent girls and women in general will continue to have access to readily available, re-usable and affordable pads. So far, 6 groups have been identified for 6 school communities in respect to this sustainability initiative.
“Through support groups, men and women are learning how to make reusable sanitary wear in order for the girls not to resort back to using cloths which were not very viable,” added Ulilia.
CARE International aims to increase equal access to education and skills development, especially for girls. Increasing equal access to education helps to combat child marriage, early pregnancy and child labor and enhances girls’ social, political and economic agency and ability to seize their rights and unlock their own potential.Read more