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June 07, 2020 4 min read

In the Sanitary Pad Project, tailoring students from a vocational school in Uganda sew washable pads for the whole school. Find out here why this is more than just a pretty cool zero waste project – and what it has to do with equality.

If you do an apprenticeship in Germany, you learn the tools for a profession. In a vocational training course in the textile industry, for example, you get to know fabrics, equipment and cuts, design prototypes for new pieces, sew according to patterns. In the beginning, things probably won’t be working out very well, pieces will look wonky, but little by little, your efforts will look better and you will grow more and more proud of your skills. The same is true for the tailoring trainees at the BUYOPA-BVC training centre in Bukedea in eastern Uganda. The girls and young women learn their craft from scratch, practice techniques and study theory. At the same time, however, they produce something very special that makes the training possible for many of them in the first place: washable sanitary pads.

It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true: about 86 percent of girls and young women in Uganda miss classes because of their periods, about one week a month. And this is not because of pain or mood swings. The problem is that most women do not have access to hygiene products such as tampons or pads, which only the richest people in Uganda can afford. Menstrual cups are out of the question for most of them, too, because the sanitary conditions are very often inadequate, especially in schools. As a result, girls and yung women are forced to stay at home during their period and thus miss important lessons.

A special piece of cloth

A non-profit organisation has developed washable cloth pads for and with the schoolgirls, which the apprentice tailors in Bukedea now produce. In the Sanitary Pad Project, they learn how to sew the pads professionally and also produce enough pads for the trainees of the other professions so that nobody has to miss a school day because of their period. In workshops, the students also learn how to use and clean the sanitary pads. After use, the pads are stored in an accompanying bag and then washed and dried at home. Some girls also get some basic knowledge about the menstrual cycle and the female body with them, as many of them are surprised by their first period. They learn that although the period makes many things more difficult, it also reminds them of the incredible things the female body is capable of.

Education is the key

Some of the trainees at the BUYOPA-BVC training centre are supported by an education sponsorship. The school offers various training courses, including tailoring, carpentry, bricklaying, hairdressing and other professions. It is aimed at young people from particularly vulnerable and poor backgrounds and for whom vocational training with a diploma can be a foundation for a self-determined life. The same applies for Germany and other industrial nations as well, but in Uganda the impact is much bigger.

Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world. The state in East Africa, a tropical highland, is somewhat smaller than Germany and has an estimated 45 million inhabitants. Half of them are children and young people. About 70 percent of the population is affected by poverty. The country has achieved a great deal in education in recent years, yet only around three-quarters of adults can read and write. The proportion of illiterate women is much higher: in 2015, 64 percent of adult women couldn’t read or write. Among girls and younger women this percentage is lower, but there is still a lot to be done. Especially young people from poor families often drop out of school early, sometimes before the end of primary school. Many never go back to school and face unemployment. Education is therefore an important instrument in the fight against poverty.

Many young people in Uganda, however, cannot afford an education, which is often provided by private schools. This goes especially for rural regions like Bukedea. The majority of Uganda's particularly poor population lives in rural areas.

Do something: take action

The organisation behind the Sanitary Pad Project is TAKE ACTION Uganda and Glocal Lifelearn. The non-profit organisation aims to improve the living conditions of people through sustainable educational projects, which it realises through sponsorships and donations. Since its foundation in 2011, the young team of students and young professionals from different European countries has, for example, equipped a school in Costa Rica with English textbooks. In Uganda, children from disadvantaged families have been supported through different educational sponsorships for several years. The TAKE ACTION project in Uganda has been running since 2018. In the first year, the organisation was able to provide vocational training for ten students, last year and this year for 30 students each, as TAKE ACTION Ugandan founders Charlotte and Theresa told us in an interview [].

A good livelihood – and recognition

For the trainees, the training and their graduation give them much better chances of having a stable livelihood one day. In addition, a diploma comes with prestige, giving the trainees social recognition – an important aspect of empowerment.

Dinah, one of the trainees, sums it up in a nutshell: “Vocational skills training is a source of employment and self-reliance”. The sanitary pad project might even provide a template for a business model for the trainees.

Sanitary pads for equality

Young women and men benefit equally from vocational training. The Sanitary Pad Project, however, turns training for girls and women into something even bigger. It is also another step towards equality. Especially in education, girls and women in Uganda still face considerable gender inequality. That is why, to quote worldwide activists, the period should end just a sentence – but not a girl’s education. With the washable sanitary pads from the Sanitary Pad Project, the trainees in Bukedea have one thing less to worry about.

The author of this blog article is Katharina Frier-Obad. You want to give her feedback or have a question? Write her a comment here.

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