Increasing access to education for girls is an important policy priority in many developing countries, where secondary school enrollment often remains lower for girls than for boys. Some researchers and policymakers have found evidence to suggest that menstruation may cause girls to miss a significant number of school days. Anecdotal evidence seems to support this observation—without access to affordable, hygienic sanitary products, girls stay home from school and often use methods that can put them at risk of infection. The context for use of menstrual hygiene products must also be considered—due to lack of menstrual health knowledge and cultural taboos related to menstruation, girls may feel the need to avoid school due to fear of stigmatization by peers or teachers. Moreover, access to running water and private toilets can be a challenge to appropriate use of menstrual hygiene products in school facilities.
Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) programming is relatively new in Zambia and hence very little research has been conducted around menstruation. However, in 2013 the Ministry of General Education (MOGE) working with the MHM thematic working group conducted a quantitative study to understand the effects of MHM on girls’ school attendance. The main findings from this study revealed that girls missed up to 36 school days per year due to menstrual-related challenges. The study also showed that water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities were inadequate for purposes of menstrual hygiene management.
In response, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and sanitary product manufacturers have conducted campaigns to distribute sanitary products in the hope that this will address a barrier to female education. Viewing this topic as an important area for future impact evaluations, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) Zambia invites the Capstone team to present recommendations for how to approach this topic of research in practice and even whether an evaluation project is advisable at all (given sensitivities, politics, current funding, etc.). Furthermore, the final deliverable could inform the research agendas of other IPA country offices.