LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – School attendance improves when girls in sub-Saharan Africa are taught about menstruation and given free sanitary towels, boosting their job prospects and self-esteem, researchers said on Wednesday.
A team from Oxford University carried out a trial involving 1,000 girls at eight schools in Uganda, providing girls in six schools with sanitary pads, information on menstruation and a combination of both.
In the largest trial of its kind, it found absenteeism from school was 17 percent higher among girls who had no access to sanitary towels or information about puberty.
"Many girls don't know about periods before they encounter their first one," said Paul Montgomery, lead author of the report published in the journal PLOS.
"They are totally unprepared because they receive no information or training on how to manage them," he said in a statement.
Menstruation is still taboo in many countries around the world, where it's often considered embarrassing or shameful.
Nearly 200 girls who took part in the trial said they felt more ashamed or insecure during menstruation and around 140 girls said they missed school because of it.
Many Ugandan girls drop out of school as they reach their teens, the study said, citing national statistics that show only 22 percent of Ugandan girls are enrolled in secondary education compared with 91 percent in primary schools.
Those living in rural areas are least likely to go to school, official figures show.
"Simple interventions like these can have major long-term economic implications for women in low and middle income countries, which socially empowers them," Montgomery said of the trial.
When 10 percent more girls go to school, a country's GDP increases by an average of 3 percent, according to gender equality campaigners.
Each additional year of secondary schooling leads to a 15-25 percent increase in a girl's potential income, they say.