Advocacy for improved menstrual health and access to sanitary pads in Uganda has gained momentum as health organizations and activists urge the government to waive taxes on these essential products. Their objective is to ensure that girls and women can easily access affordable sanitary pads without facing embarrassment or stigma during menstruation.
Dr. Cecilia Natembo, the Masaka Regional Director of Uganda Cares, highlights the detrimental impact of menstruation on girls’ education. Many girls in rural areas struggle to afford sanitary pads due to high prices, compounded by taxes imposed on these products. Consequently, girls face challenges attending school regularly, and it also becomes difficult for well-wishers to provide free pads to support them.
“Pads should be for free, but surprisingly taxes are being increased on pads, this is very unfortunate because menstruation is not a choice all females have to painfully go through it, and what we are asking the government is that let’s take away the taxes from sanitary pads because this is a necessity in a girl’s life,” she added.
She emphasizes that girls miss more than two months of school each year due to their periods, resulting in a significant number of school-age girls being deprived of education. Even those who manage to attend school experience a decline in academic performance. The activists stress the importance of prioritizing menstrual health by supporting girls to stay in school and combat the stigma surrounding menstruation.
They emphasize that menstruation is a normal bodily function and call for an end to myths and stigmatization associated with it. Dr. Natembo also raises concerns about the lack of a comprehensive policy on health education, particularly regarding sexuality and menstrual health. She urges parents to bridge this gap by providing essential health education information to their children.
Furthermore, the activists remind the government of its pledge to provide free sanitary pads to school-going children and express disappointment at the delay in its fulfillment. They emphasize the need for improved menstrual hygiene management in schools, including the provision of running water and designated toilets for girls to ensure they can change their pads comfortably.
Asumputa Nalubega of UHF Uganda Cares stresses the necessity of schools having free pads available for adolescents who may unexpectedly start menstruating. She highlights that many young girls engage in risky behaviors to acquire money for pads, and reducing taxes on pads would make them more affordable and accessible for all.
“A big number of these young girls have their menses on the days they are not aware of we need to ensure that schools have some free pads they can give to these adolescents so that they can stay in the class rather than going back home to access a pad” she added.
Responding to these concerns, leaders in the Kalungu district have pledged support for the campaign to improve menstrual health in schools. They propose allocating funds from unconditional grants given to schools to provide free pads to learners who experience their periods while at school.
Joseph Gonzaga Ssewungu, Kalungu West legislator, attributes the delayed implementation of the free sanitary pad provision in schools to budget cuts for the Ministry of Education. He assures that the education committee in parliament is diligently working to increase the ministry’s budget to facilitate the provision of essential materials like pads.
Although President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni pledged to offer free sanitary pads to pupils during his 2015 campaign in the Lango sub-region, this commitment remains unfulfilled, intensifying the urgency of the activists’ call for action.