Girls living with disabilities face a number of challenges in trying to access quality education during adolescence. One of the challenges includes a lack of proper information and communication on issues of self-hygiene, sanitation and sexual reproductive health.
To fill the gap, the Malawi government in conjunction with local NGOs in Malawi have started a capacity-building project for sanitation response in special needs education. The project aims at empowering disabled girls with proper self-hygiene during the adolescent period.
The project has started with the meeting and engaging traditional leaders and school teachers. It is expected that the first phase of the program will benefit 500 disabled girls with basic skills and information in Phalombe and Chikwawa districts in the southern region of Malawi.
According to Mataya, a school teacher at a local primary school in Phalombe district, disabled children especially girls face a number of challenges in regards to self-sanitation and sexual reproductive health.
“There has been a number of cases whereby young girls would miss school because of menstrual experience. This is so because the girls lack proper knowledge and skills on how to cope with such situations, for this reason, many shun away from attending classes because they feel ashamed to associate themselves with non-disabled friends.
Furthermore, due to lack of proper and constructive information, many disabled girls are getting pregnant at a very young age, a development which is very negative to the development of girls education in the district, she said.
Literature shows that women and girls with disabilities may experience menstruation differently and more negatively compared to non-disabled children. In addition, disabled women and girls may be less likely to gather information about relevant topics for themselves.
According to Lucy Nkhoma, Project Officer at Campaign For Health Education, Sanitation and Hygiene (CAHESH), the project will see girls with special needs getting information about how they can take care of themselves during menstruation. The project also aims at eradicating taboos and myths that members of the community have towards menstruation in general.
“We believe that a child who is able to take care of herself can also enjoy class lessons and community companionship. For this reason, the project aims at educating girls with disabilities on how best they can take care of themselves in order to build their self-confidence.
The project will also target parents and guardians in the communities who for years have been rooted in myths and beliefs that perhaps hinder girls to attend classes when they are experiencing such moments.
“We thank the government of Malawi and Water Supply Collaborative Council (WSCC) for their support in this project which we believe will have a huge impact on class attendance once school reopens,” she said.
Commenting on the development, Senior Chief Kaduya of Phalombe district praised the organization for coming up with the initiative. She said that the project is timely and lately elderly women in her area have been providing information to young girls about personal hygiene. However, there has been a gap to communicate efficiently with girls with living with disabilities on the same because of insufficient skills and resources. Enditem