On his campaign trail in 2016, President Museveni promised free sanitary pads to all girls enrolled under the universal primary education. But three years later last weekend, a government minister said that won’t happen.
So, the president begins his 2021 reelection drive with a key unfulfilled promise to the girl-child. Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the minister of state for Primary Health Care, told meetings last weekend in the West Nile district of Moyo that government will not give out free sanitary pads to keep girls in school.
“Lack of sanitary pads should not be an excuse for the girl-child to stay at home,” Kaducu said. “A parent has a sole responsibility to ensure that the girl-child has what it takes to be at school,” she said during the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) funded community outreach campaigns by the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Food Security, Population and Development.
The outreach campaigns are aimed at scaling back the rising cases of teenage pregnancies and high school drop-out rates in West Nile and Acholi sub-regions. Museveni promised free pads on November 12, 2015 during a campaign rally at Lira Golf course.
He said girls enrolled under the universal primary education (UPE) program would get free sanitary pads in the 2016/17 financial year.
“I have discovered that girls drop out of schools in rural areas because they lack pads; now beginning next year, they will get them [pads] free of charge,” Museveni told the rally.
Fours years later, no budget has been tied to the pledge, and if Kaducu’s words are anything to go by, the presidential pledge was ill-informed. Kaducu said no one should expect government to procure pads and di- rectly distribute them.
“In any case, we [government] are already indirectly giving out the pads because we have created an enabling environment for the various develop- ment partners and agencies that are reaching out to the girls in school,” she said.
Kaducu is the Woman MP for Moyo district where school dropout rates stand at about 68.5 percent, according to the district’s records.
“The school completion rate stands at 31.5 per cent; the rest either get pregnant along the way or drop out,” George Eriku Mbaya, the district plan- ner, said.
In the district, children as young as 10 are sexually active, which has pushed condom use rates among adolescent boys up to nine percent and two percent among girls. Teenage pregnancies are also on the climb, standing at an average of 16 per cent, which district authorities partly blame on poor parenting.
“Adolescents are expected to abstain from sex – according to the comprehensive sexuality education framework guidelines by the ministry of Education and Sports. Evidence of sexual activity among adolescents is a deviation from the guidelines, which call for a review to add age-specific and context-specific information,” said Michael Adrawa, a health officer in the district.
To Kaducu, the high condom use rate among adolescents points to the moral decadence in the district.
“It is a bad indicator; it shows that the rate of moral decay is going up and parents have become irresponsible, they are not playing their roles, and schools seem to be giving up. What it means is that schools are encouraging girls to sleep with boys,” Kaducu said.
Moyo is one of the 12 Northern Uganda districts that are beneficiaries of a partnership worth €24 million (Shs 96 billion) signed early this month between the Netherlands ambassador to Uganda Henk Jan Bakker and UNFPA country representative Alain Sibenaler to support interventions to address high maternal mortality, high unmet need for family planning services, teenage pregnancy and child marriages, Gender-based violence (GBV) as well as inequalities in access to sexual and reproductive health services for vulnerable groups such as adolescents, refugees and persons with disabilities.
Kaducu, however, says donors should be clear on some of their project objectives. She is uncomfortable with programs giving girls access to family planning services.
“You can’t give contraceptives to young girls, the Constitution is very clear; marriage is for those above 18 years. We have to evaluate the different categories of adolescents – the school dropouts, those still in school and give appropriate intervention,” she said.
“They [donors] should define the girls they want to give contraceptives; those below 18 years can get the information, but not contraceptives. They [donors] have the money, but we have the power, they should not force us to take the country in the direction they want,” Kaducu added.