Zero Dropouts

In Tanzania, more than one-third of teenage girls drop out of school, making them vulnerable and less likely to be self-sufficient later in life. One issue is non-affordable sanitary pads mixed with menstrual taboo. Together with local actors, we have initiated a pilot project to support the teenage girls staying in school by facilitating an affordable supply of pads and education to increase menstrual acceptance.

Late May, Karagwe District, Tanzania. We are on our first visit to the district to conduct a pre-study for the pilot project. It takes place at four schools throughout the district, testing hypotheses to make a model that is applicable to the entire district.

The project is carried out in close co-operation with locals. It has to be! The solutions must be locally acceptable and implementable. We work with the local NGO MAVUNO that aims to empower the rural population of Karagwe. Engineers Without Borders Sweden also participates in the project as the project must ensure a sustainable and reliable supply of sanitary pads. The ultimate goal of the project is to set up a self-reliant ecosystem that is able to continue on its own.

"When you educate a girl, you educate a nation"

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Educating girls is widely regarded as one of the best ways to improve the economy and health of developing countries. However, in Tanzania, entering puberty means school dropout for many adolescent girls, and in the Karagwe District, more than 40% never graduate, leaving the young women vulnerable.

One of the reasons why they drop out is menstruation, which is still tabooed in Tanzania. The taboo makes information limited, and sanitary pads are often way too expensive to buy, excluding the young women from school during periods. Apart from diminishing the women’s opportunities to be self-sufficient later in life, once they start missing school they are also far more likely to be exposed to other risks such as early pregnancy and marriage, HIV/AIDS and female genital mutilation. 
So, sanitary pads constitute a real issue!

Zero Dropouts – targeting puberty-related dropouts

Together with MAVUNO and Engineers Without Borders Sweden, we are carrying out the pilot project Zero Dropouts that targets puberty-related dropouts of adolescent girls in primary and secondary school. The pilot project has two strings:

To create a reliable supply of sanitary pads at a low cost and of good quality. The solution must be sustainable and build capabilities for self- production.
To educate men, women, boys and girls on menstruation and reproductive health in order to break the menstrual taboo.
The overall aim is to empower women by improving their economic status and self-esteem, leading to a stronger economic development in Tanzania. To do this, girls need to stay in school, and in Tanzania, a part of this issue can be solved by providing a hygiene long-term material solution for menstrual girls.

A self-reliant project by 2018

For now, the pre-study has taken place. The project consists of several phases, where the pilot project is a crucial part of the learning curve with the ultimate goal of creating a self-reliant ecosystem for providing a long-term material solution by February 2018.