It was recently announced that the Ministry of Education is planning to provide free sanitary napkins to approximately 800,000 schoolchildren through a three-stage project in 2021 as part of the Ministry’s Health and Nutrition Programme, with priority to be given to schoolchildren in rural areas.
According to Ministry of Education Media Secretary Buddhika Wickramadara, priority is being given to rural schools because they face greater issues in terms of affordability and accessibility of sanitary napkins.
Whilst the decision the Ministry has taken is admirable, when it comes to sanitation, there are additional elements to be addressed including the distribution process, disposal, and safe use of sanitary napkins.
Addressing these areas, which arguably go hand in hand with menstrual health, we reached out to Advocata Institute Former Communications Manager Anuki Premachandra, who was part of the research conducted by the independent policy think tank on taxes on sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka. She shared: “The fact that the Government is addressing the importance of making sure these sanitary napkins are of high quality and carrying out distribution under the advice of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), is encouraging.”
Additionally, referring to the fact that the Ministry is also looking into building period-friendly toilets, she noted that it is a huge step in the right direction, as opposed to looking at disposal and sanitation only. It is encouraging to hear that waste disposal too may be looked at in this manner.
It was also noted that this drive may be the perfect opportunity for the Government to increase education and awareness on sexual and reproductive health, as it is important to teach our girls even little things, like how long you should be wearing a sanitary napkin, how to dispose of it hygienically, what to do if there are bad odours, etc., and this initiative could be the first step towards those inroads, i.e. to provide for that awareness.
While the Sri Lankan Government is yet to embark on this initiative, there have been organisations around the island that have been carrying out the distribution of free sanitary products for some time now. One such organisation is The Arka Initiative, which has been providing reusable sanitary pads to underserved women in Sri Lanka coupled with comprehensive sex education to children.
We reached out to The Arka Initiative Head of Mentors Dr. Rashmira Balasuriya to share her thoughts on some of the challenges that the Ministry of Education may face in terms of distribution, and to share her experiences in having carried out similar projects.
She stated that they are glad that the Sri Lankan Government has realised the impact of period poverty on school girls and has taken the initiative to consider providing sanitary napkins free of charge for them. In terms of statistics, she referenced the study carried out in 2014 by the UNICEF (United Nations’ Children’s Fund) KAP (Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices), which found that at least 37% of girls miss one-two days of school each month due to their period – which shows the direct impact period poverty has on school education. She added also that poor menstrual hygiene increases the risk of reproductive tract infections.
In terms of what to expect from the administrative front, she said: “When providing sanitary napkins, it is important that the Government provides an adequate number of sanitary napkins for each school girl around the country. On average, the menstrual cycle lasts between four to seven days every month. A sanitary napkin must be changed every four to six hours depending on the flow of menstrual blood. Hence, a menstruating female will on average use 15-25 sanitary napkins every month. We hope the Government takes this into consideration when providing sanitary napkins for all school girls and also ensures the distribution occurs islandwide reaching all school girls,” concluded Dr. Balasuriya.
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