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With the most number of entries we’ve ever received, the competition was even harder with such exceptional submissions that demonstrated inspiring passion for Human Rights advocacy.
Megan Leung, 14, won 2nd place in our HART Prize for Human Rights Junior Essay Category 2018 with her essay titled:
The Importance of Adequate Sanitation for Girls and Women in Ensuring a Country’s Development
Menstruation. Defined as “The process in a woman of discharging blood and other material from the lining of the uterus”, it is perceived in many parts of the world as a completely natural event, marking the beginning of puberty and the transition into adulthood for females. Despite this, it can be a challenge to manage for many girls, no matter where they live, and so it is imperative that the correct support systems are established to provide a secure environment in which women are not afraid to speak out about concerns they may have, or to ask for help acquiring sanitation products should they require them. When this is provided, a period should mean little more than a few minutes each day spent changing pads or other sanitary products, provided that adequate disposal solutions are made accessible. Yet unfortunately, many women across Uganda are confronted with a harsh reality that is all too different to this, and as a result, face barriers to education, careers and good health.
Research has found that girls in Uganda choose not to attend school whilst on their period for lengths of time averaging around three and a half days every month in order to avoid the embarrassment and harassment that surrounds the process. This can be due to both an inadequate supply of sanitary products such as pads as well as a lack of washing facilities; in fact, toilets in some schools still lack water for pupils to wash themselves and flush waste away with as well as doors around every cubicle, denying girls the privacy they require. The consequences of this can be enormous; even when girls have enough sanitary products and are able to stay in school, they may still feel scared to use their school’s facilities. Not only can this lead to ill-health as a result of infection after poor sanitation as girls have nowhere clean and discreet to wash and dry pads, but it can also result in continuous embarrassment inside the classroom, as girls worry about odours or leakages whenever they must stand up in front of others. As a result, even remaining inside the school for lessons becomes an arduous task, and so, many girls will stay at home to avoid the complications that arise when menstruating at school.
Over time, regular absences from the classroom will make it increasingly difficult for a girl to pursue her education, no matter how dedicated or perseverant she is. Statistics reveal that during primary school, the overall enrolment of girls in school is higher than that of boys, yet this statement reverses when pupils transition to secondary school, with the enrolment of boys being higher than that of girls. A lack of sanitation and waste disposal systems evidently contributes to this, as demonstrated by the study coordinated at the University of Birmingham that found that levels of absenteeism were 17% higher in schools that did not provide sanitation products or education about menstruation.
Consequently, this will a have a hugely detrimental effect on Uganda’s development as a country; when girls are no longer attend school, their chances of proceeding onto further education or training programmes greatly decrease, thus reducing the likelihood that they will be able to progress onto higher-paying jobs in the secondary and tertiary sector. This further exacerbates the perceived subservience of women; if women are unable to work because they lack the skills to do so, they will be expected to stay at home and look after children, not only having negative impacts on her and her family’s standards of living, but also the country’s GDP and economic development. As well as this, Uganda has an incredibly youthful population; 48% of its citizens are aged 14 or under which will require a strong productive population to support it. If half of Uganda’s population is at risk of being left behind because of a natural, biological process that is instrumental to human survival, it is incredibly likely that a lack of new ideas and creative innovation will result, ultimately leading to further impediments to the country’s development such as acute food insecurity and therefore malnutrition.
Above all, we must realise that it is impossible to try and effectuate gender equality, feminism, female empowerment and eventually a developed society when girls and women still do not have access to essential sanitation. Girls will never feel equal in a society where they are made to experience humiliation and hardship purely because of their sex and the natural processes that come with being a woman. Though short-term solutions have been implemented to try and change this, such as the provision of reusable pads from outside countries, it is apparent that increased awareness of this issue as well as more open attitudes will be the most significant factors in solving this issue.
See the full list of HART Prize for Human Rights 2018 winners and shortlisted entries here