I only had access to old cloth but I want to change it for other girls

Since 2014, the Government of Uganda has intensified and set the discourse for menstrual hygiene management as it presents challenges to girls in low income settings. A baseline survey by Plan Uganda 2018 shows that 18% of girls reported missing school because of menstrual-related problems.

Another report by International Rescue Committee confirms that girls reported substantial embarrassment and fear of teasing related to menstruation in the qualitative interviews and this, together with menstrual pain and lack of effective materials for menstrual hygiene management led to school absenteeism. Also, policy makers interviewed reported poverty and menstruation as the key factors associated with school attendance.

Many girls who have experienced the rural life setting where pads are not affordable truly understand the need for a pad in a girls’ life and so does Ashemeza Rita.

Rita is the founder of “Let’s Sustainably Provide Pads to Ugandan Girls”, a project championing menstrual health among Ugandan schools by distributing and providing training young girls and women to make their own pads. We had a chat with her on the journey so far and the challenges she is facing.

Who is Rita Ashemeza?

Lugano, 15 dicembre 2021 – La studentessa dell’USI Rita Ashemeza. © CdT/Gabriele Putzu

Rita is a girl who grew up in the hills of Rwamatere in Rukungiri District. I did my Bachelors of Mass-communication at Kampala International University (KIU). I worked at Galaxy FM for 3-4 years and currently, I am pursuing a Masters of Communication Science in Media Management in Switzerland. I have four brothers and a boyfriend who has contributed a lot to my growth.

What inspired you to start the Pads Project?

Growing up, all I had to use as pads were old clothes until my 20’s so I can understand how frustrating it is to not have access to pads. While in school, I was constantly stressed and afraid that something embarrassing, such as staining my uniform would happen in class during my period. With time, I realised that I wasn’t the only one.

Almost 90% of girls in my school then were also using old clothes as pads. Between the discomfort of these cloths and the fear of embarrassment, some girls would miss school during their period. We also did not receive any formal education about menstrual health, so it was hard to know how to handle anything to do with the period.

I remember a certain organisation came to my school and distributed a few sanitary pads, we were so happy and that gave me a dream to one day start up something like that. Last year, my boyfriend and I decided to use our YouTube channel as a platform to start fundraising and it was successful. 

How many schools/ girls have you reached out to?

So far, we have reached out to eight schools; six in Rukungiri and two in Jinja. Western Uganda has been left out in such projects yet they also need some help. Most NGO’s are in the East, Central and North. We hope to reach out to more schools in Western Uganda, God willing.

What impact has the project had on the girls?

I wish you had seen the smiles on their faces after getting the pads. The speeches they gave were heart-warming. The main goal of this project is to reduce absenteeism and stigma among girls in school and it is working.

What was your most emotional or memorable moment during the project?

At one of the schools, a girl (student) gave a speech that made us all emotional. I can’t forget that because it gave me assurance that these girls truly need help with menstrual supplies and training.

What challenges have you faced?

I think our biggest challenge was transportation. We had to carry reusable pads all the way from Kampala. That’s why our next project is to try to teach girls to make their own reusables.

What lessons can young girls learn from your life story?

Do not let anyone tell you that just because you are from a humble/poor background, you can’t make it. You can make it but only if you set your goals and work hard to achieve them. It all starts with knowing what you want.

What are your future plans?

We currently have a project called “Let’s Sustainably Provide Pads to Ugandan Girls”. We are trying to fundraise for training and employment of young women to create reusable pads, sewing machines and reusable pad materials. Having all the above will help us make our own reusables which means we shall be able to sustainably donate to more schools. Other people can be a part of this project by donating whatever little they have using this link: https://gofund.me/325afa04