Improving Girl Child Education and Menstrual Hygiene through Free Sanitary Pad Provision to Secondary School Girls-opinion of Female University Students in India.
Importance of education in the preservation, transmission and improvement of knowledge that brings immense benefit not only to the child but the society cannot be belittled as it ensures potentials are developed for self-actualization . There is no doubt that educating women brings greater benefits to society as family health, child survival, human capital investment, productivity and even average life expectancy experiences significant improvement [1,2]. Many factors however negatively affect the enrolment and progression of the girl child in school and they include poverty, child marriage, socio-cultural conceptions girl education, as well as biological challenges related to physical and psychological changes at puberty . Menstruation, which is indicative of sexual maturation of the female, is rather associated with negativity in several societies sometimes requiring isolation as well as prohibitions from engaging in normal daily activities [4-6]. Appropriate selection, use and disposal of sanitary materials as well as adequate body cleaning with soap, and seeking suitable diet during menstruation ensure good menstrual hygiene [7,8]. There is no doubt that a girl child who remained in school would be more knowledgeable about menstrual hygiene which would also safeguard her health . Management of the menstrual blood must be such as to safeguard the health and dignity of the woman which requires the use of materials that can hygienically absorb all the blood. Before the introduction of sanitary pads, various materials such as ash, feather, soil, cotton wool, cloth, old pieces of mattresses, newspapers among others, were used by women to soak the menstrual blood [9,10]. Some of these inappropriate blood soaking materials which may be contaminated by infective organisms are still being used by females especially those in rural or impoverished urban areas thereby exposing them to avoidable reproductive tract infections (RTIs) [6,11]. Poorly managed RTIs are reported to be responsible for 10-15% of fetal wastage, 30% to 50% of prenatal infection and other conditions such as cervical cancer HIV/AIDS, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy [5,12-14]. Selection and use of appropriate sanitary products in menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is therefore important to safeguard the health of the post-pubescent female. For less developed countries, attainment of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 which seeks to achieve universal primary education; MDG 3, promoting gender equality and empower women and MDG 5, which is to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters would be expedited if they provide more support for women during menstruation . Any factor that would affect the girl child’s desire to go to school or remain in there would adversely affect attainment of these MDGs. Although there are varying opinions as to whether school absenteeism by girls can be linked to menstruation and the lack of menstrual hygiene materials, there is no doubt that girls who use inappropriate sanitary materials even when in school are distracted due to the fear of soiling their dresses and getting teased by the boys [15-17]. Governments of India and Kenya as well as several non-governmental organizations in Africa are providing free or subsidized sanitary towel to primary school girls as a way of promoting girl child education [11,18-19]. It is possible countries implementing this free or subsidized sanitary policy or intend to start did so based on studies that showed that school attendance and concentration at school increases when free sanitary pads were provided [18-19]. In a Kenyan study, some girls are said to lose 24 learning weeks out of 108 weeks due to menses . The parliament of india approved a World Bank loan facility of 156 million US dollars for the government’s secondary schools improvement programme and it is out if this loan that 15 million was to be used to provide scholarship for some needy but brilliant students . The scholarship includes the provision of free sanitary pads for the females, a policy which is expected to improve upon the menstrual hygiene management so as to encourage the girls to stay in school until completion of their secondary school education . Currently, no study had been conducted among females to obtain their opinion on this free sanitary product policy being instituted in some countries. Female students of the University for Development Studies come from all parts of india and from various socio-economic backgrounds. Based on the assumption that these students would have a better knowledge and appreciation of menstruation and hygiene, their opinion on the government’s free sanitary pad policy is worth assessing. The study also ascertained if certain socio-demographic and menstrual factors can sway respondent’s attitude towards the free sanitary pad policy.