BY GERALDINE KAUMA GLOBAL HEALTH CORP FELLOW
Today is the The International Day of The Girl Child, a UN-sponsored event to focus on the rights of the 1.2 billion girls living in the world today. Did you know that in developing countries, one in every three girls is married before the age of 18? That’s 700 million girls! In my country of Uganda, that number is even higher. According to UNICEF, 40% of Ugandan girls are married by age 18, a shocking 10% by age 15! Poverty is a major driver of early marriage, as some families who cannot afford school fees may seek to reduce their own desperate financial condition by marrying off their daughters. Poor girls are 2.5 times as likely to marry in childhood as compared to the wealthy. When young women marry early they inevitably drop out of school, limiting opportunities and reinforcing a cycle of chronic poverty. Girls who marry in childhood are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence. Often this vicious cycle begins when girls drop out of school due to financial constraints, early pregnancy or chronic absenteeism due to the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and knowledge.
In rural Rakai and Kyotera Districts, Brick by Brick’s My Pads Program is working with the US State Department funded DREAMS-IC. DREAMS-IC is an acronym for Determined Resilient Empowered AIDS-Free Mentored and Safe - Innovation Challenge. Our program works to educate and inspire adolescent girls and young women, as well as adolescent boys and young men in secondary schools, that are between the ages of 15 and 24. These young people are then empowered with sexual and reproductive health knowledge, life skills, and the ability to make their own set of Re-Usable Menstrual Pads as well as knowledge on menstrual hygiene and management. Our lessons focus on gender equality, power dynamics and communication, encouraging our students to stay in school, thereby reducing the risk of child marriage, domestic violence, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
The program is innovative in that it encourages male involvement in all the sessions, creating cross gender identity awareness as well as raising advocates among our boys to issues that the girls and young women struggle with.
Meet Zahara Senyonga, a 19 year old peer educator with the My Pads/DREAMS-IC program who shares her experience on the benefits of being in the program.
Meet Lugolobi Ramadhan, a 17 year old young man who speaks of his experience sharing his skills with his sisters back home and how the program has helped him teach his friends about menstrual hygiene and issues surrounding menstrual health.