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Managing Menstruation Helps Keep Girls in School in South Sudan

May 27, 2021

Menstruation shouldn't get in the way of a girl's education. UNICEF improves water sources and latrines at schools and distributes menstrual supply kits so girls won't miss out on learning.

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TORIT, South Sudan -  Menstruation is a natural fact of life and a monthly occurrence for the 1.8 billion girls and women of reproductive age. Yet millions of menstruators across the world are denied the right to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified, healthy way. 

In South Sudan, menstruation has the power to jeopardize girls' futures.

Girls who can't afford sanitary pads often skip school when they are menstruating, missing a week of instruction every month

Disposable sanitary pads are hard to find in South Sudan, and they cost more than a meal, making them an impossible luxury for many. “We would make a makeshift pad using old clothes or a rag or basically anything,” said Jonoka Akai, Deputy Head Teacher at Dumak Primary School in Torit. “If we were not able to provide the girl with anything, she would go home and not return until her period was over. That could be days or even a week.”

Girls who stay home the days they are menstruating miss anywhere from 36 to 72 days of school per year, an immense amount of education lost.

UNICEF dignity kits filled with menstrual supplies help adolescent girls manage their monthly periods so they don't have to stay home from school and miss days of classroom instruction. © UNICEF/UNI224889/De La Guardia

To help girls stay in school while they are menstruating, UNICEF distributes dignity kits. “The bag had underwear, reusable pads, soap, a flashlight, a drying line for clothes and a nail cutter,” said 17-year-old Elizabeth, a student  at Iluhum Primary School in Torit. “I had only one pad before, but it is not enough. You need many, as you need to change them frequently and wash them. Now, I have enough to manage my period and I don’t miss out on school.”

UNICEF dignity kits contain the menstrual supplies girls need to stay in school

“The dignity kit has helped me because I have what I need now and can plan for my period,” said her classmate Josephine, 17.

The kit contains a flashlight to keep girls safe when they use outdoor latrines after dark. But the light also comes in handy for studying. Nite, 19, says “We don’t have power in our house. With the torch I can study at night.”

Elizabeth, 17, stands outside one of the latrines girls used to use before UNICEF rehabilitated their latrine block at Iluhum Primary School in Torit, South Sudan. © UNICEF/UN0428022/Ryeng

UNICEF rehabilitated several boreholes and latrines in schools in Torit in 2020, making it easier for girls to manage their periods. Before the repairs, the children had to bring all the water they would need for a day or fetch water during the day. The boreholes provide easy access to water in the school yards, so the burden of bringing water from home is no longer an issue.

UNICEF builds new latrines and improves water supply in South Sudan schools to help girls manage their periods

Before the new latrines were completed, girls had to balance over the latrine hole while changing their pads and cleaning themselves. Fatna, 17, prefers the newly constructed latrine block at Faith Ministry International Academy, which has a changing room for the girls.

UNICEF rehabilitated latrines, including a changing room for girls who are menstruating, at AIC Nursery and Primary School in Torit, South Sudan. © UNICEF/UN0428061/Ryeng

“When a girl gets her period, she can go to the room, clean herself, change the pad and then return to class. She doesn’t have to go home, and she is not missing class,” Fatna explained as she opened the door to the changing room.

With the final exams just around the corner, girls in Torit can focus on their studies rather than worrying about periods. “With toilets, water and pads available, I just need to remember what I’ve studied,” said Eliza, 16. “I’m not nervous though, I’m confident.” 

From left: Nite, 19, Elizabeth, 17, and Margaret, 17, stand beside a water borehole rehabilitated by UNICEF at Iluhum Primary School in Torit South Sudan. © UNICEF/UN0428013/Ryeng

Before the COVID-19 closure of schools in South Sudan, 2.8 million children were out of school and the majority were girls. Access to education is a child right, and UNICEF is committed to removing impediments hindering access to education for all children but in particular girls as they are disproportionally affected. Distribution of dignity kits and ensuring adequate access to water and proper latrines at school is an essential part of improving access to education for girls.

UNICEF South Sudan is grateful for the generous contribution from the Federal Republic of Germany through KfW Development Bank.

UNICEF programs protect the rights and futures of girls around the world. Your generous donation can help the next generation of girls reach their full potential.

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Top photo: 17-year-olds Margaret and Elizabeth (left and center), and Nite, 19, carry water from the newly rehabilitated borehole at Ilumum Primary School in Torit, South Sudan. Before the borehole was fixed, students had to bring water from home or walk more than a mile roundtrip to the nearest water source. © UNICEF/UN0428011/Ryeng