A major initiative to help combat period poverty in Uganda was launched today, with the opening of a manufacturing plant for sanitary pads that will significantly improve the lives of up to 50,000 Ugandan girls and women each year.
Significant grant funding from the Randal Charitable Foundation enabled this landmark social enterprise project in Namakwa, Mukono district of Uganda, working in partnership with The Uganda Red Cross Society. The plant will manufacture 200,000 re-usable sanitary pads annually – directly helping to tackle missed educational opportunities for girls, who may miss 18% of the academic year, because of poor sanitary protection during their period.
It will also create locally based, skilled employment opportunities for vulnerable girls and women who will be trained to make and market the pads and ensure the long-term sustainability of the facility.
The Keep a Girl In School (KAGIS) Manufacturing Plant was officially opened on 11 August 2023 by Secretary General of the Uganda Red Cross Society, Robert Kwesiga, and Dr Nik Kotecha OBE DL, Founder and Chairman of the Randal Charitable Foundation, together with the Director, Basic and Secondary Education at the Ministry of Education and Sports in Uganda.
Speaking after the launch ceremony, Dr Kotecha, who was born in Uganda before emigrating as a refugee to the United Kingdom as a child in 1972, said: “For many women and girls, poor access to high quality sanitary pads, as well as to toilets and washrooms, is a huge barrier to attending school and can result in seriously limiting future career choices.
“The Randal Foundation is passionate about enabling every young person to reach their full potential, and equal access to education for girls and boys is an essential part of this. We are also huge advocates of supporting communities out of poverty by creating long-term sustainable economic opportunities and employment.
“This ground-breaking partnership with the Uganda Red Cross Society will help secure a future free from “period poverty” for tens of thousands of women and girls each year. It’s truly humbling to meet women and girls who will benefit from the wide-ranging outcomes from our manufacturing enterprise here today, from locally based jobs, to training and of course, high quality sanitary protection.
“The powerful combination of practically tackling the serious issue of period poverty for young girls, and unleashing their future potential – alongside local job creation – is why we were passionate to invest, to make this project a reality.”
As well as funding the setting up of the manufacturing facility, the Randal Foundation investment will also support the training and up-skilling of women and girls to make and sell the sanitary pads, and in transferrable business skills as diverse as business administration and marketing. Funding has also been made available to ensure proper supervision and monitoring is in place.
Rachael McCormack, Chief Operating Officer for the Randal Foundation, said: “This facility is especially close to our hearts because of our unwavering vision to directly save lives, and significantly improve the quality of life for those in need in the UK and around the world.
“Period poverty is a global problem. Our community-based social enterprise, creating high quality, accessible sanitary protection, together with the URCS, will help to tackle this, here in Uganda.
“Missing school has a lasting, adverse impact, often meaning that girls go on to miss out on employment and other opportunities throughout life. We hope our project will ensure more women can complete their education and be able to make life choices which mean they can fulfil their true potential.”
Each year, around 20 percent of the 200,000 pads will be given to 10,000 vulnerable girls in-school, free of charge. The remaining 80 percent will be sold in the wider community at a subsidised price, which will ensure the long-term viability of the manufacturing facility.
Robert Kwesiga, Secretary General of Uganda Red Cross Society, said: “Keep A Girl in School is a Menstrual Health Management initiative spearheaded by the Ministry of Education and Sports and launched in 2019, which highlights that girls are missing school because of lack of sanitary pads to use during their monthly cycle. We would like to thank the Randal Charitable Foundation for their significant support towards the setting up of a manufacturing plant in Uganda which is aimed at keeping more girls in school through manufacturing and provision of re-usable pads. Over the next 3 years, URCS is scaling up production of re-usable pads to reach up to 100,000 – 150,000 women and girls in Uganda.
“I call on more partners – both public and private – to support the Keep A Girl in School initiative, by supporting the vulnerable girls to stay in school by buying re-usable pads for donation from the newly set up manufacturing plant”
Director Basic and Secondary Education, Ministry of Education and Sports – Mulindwa Ismael said “The Ministry of Education and Sports has, since 2019, led the Keep A Girl in School initiative in Uganda, having realised that menstruation poses several challenges to adolescent girls and young women, especially school going ones.
“As a result of a lack of access to hygienic sanitary wear, girls and women in the community often resort to using inappropriate materials such as rugs torn from their old clothes, papers, pieces of old mattress foam and leaves. In rural communities, they become house bound, and are forced to sit over a hole dug in the middle of their mud floors until the menstrual flow ends. School going girls who get blood on their clothes are also often teased by teachers, boys, or other girls, and this has been reported as a significant cause of school dropouts for girls.”
Mr Mulindwa applauded Uganda Red Cross Society and the Randal Charitable Foundation for the great stride taken to set up a manufacturing plant for reusable pads, because the plant will directly help to tackle missed educational opportunities for girls, who may miss 18% of the academic year, because of poor sanitary protection during their menstrual cycle.
During this project, URCS is also partnering with She for She, an indigenous organisation whose goal is to ensure that every young girl can attend school by improving access to pads and by providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights education.
She for She has experience in training community groups to sew pads and partnering with established local organisations to provide education and dialogue on menstruation and related menstrual hygiene management. While the first set of materials will be imported, the URCS will advocate for in-country factories to start producing the materials locally.
Keep A Girl in School is also part of the URCS Health and Social Service Agenda under Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Interventions – which plays a crucial role around key issues such as health, education, protection and security of women and adolescent girls.