Sitting at her wooden school desk alongside a classroom full of other teenage students, Felicitas looks around to decide the fastest way to escape. No one seems to have noticed anything yet but the embarrassment is too much to endure. Stealthily, she sneaks out of room and rushes back to the sanctuary of the dormitory where she can deal with the unfolding matter in private.

When Felicitas began secondary school she did not have access to sanitary pads. Her parents did not have the money to buy the product which left their daughter with rags of old clothes or, more often than not, nothing at all when her period started.

“Whenever I was about to start menstruating I could feel small in class because at first I didn’t have them. I would sit at the desk and look around and see that someone is not seeing me then I rush to the dormitory.”

Felicistas’ school opened its gates a little over three years ago and she has attended since that first day. Now in her final year at Kityerera High School, on the banks of Lake Victoria in the Mayuge District of Eastern Uganda, she is preparing for her Ugandan Certificate of Education (UCE) exams this year with the hopes she will go on to become a doctor.

“In our villages there are few doctors and nurses yet people fall sick every day. They have to take the sick people very far for treatment but I would like to help people in need.”

Felicitas knows that she has access to something the majority of girls her age do not. Every month a girl in Uganda will miss between 1-3 days of school due to her period. This equates to between 8-24 days of school each academic year.

As a student of the school network, PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools), she has been able to attend a Girls’ Club which provide re-usable sanitary pads to all their members. It is one of the many measures PEAS have installed at schools across Uganda in an attempt to eradicate the barriers facing marginalised girls when it comes to accessing secondary education.

“Since they brought us sanitary pads, I am free. Sometimes I would even dodge classes when I don’t have sanitary pads but since I had the advantage of having them that has simplified my attendance.”

In an attempt to improve female enrolment and attendance in class, PEAS have introduced actions to redress the gender imbalance. Supporting the organisation’s commitment to monitor the standard of education being provided, recent independent research shows that PEAS schools enrol more of the poorest children in Uganda yet the rate at which those students improve throughout their secondary education is better than government schools.

Sheba Natchia is the Senior Woman Teacher at Pioneer High School in the Mityana District of Central Uganda. She describes her role at the school as being a neutral outlet for the girls, away from the teachers and the classroom, where they can openly talk about issues affecting them in, or out, of school.

Sheba runs the Girls’ Club at the school which allows boys and girls to eradicate the stigma associated with menstruation, learn life skills to increase their potential employability on graduating. Importantly they also focus on empowering young people to realise their full potential in life by exposing certain cultural misconceptions. She takes her role, and the influence she has, extremely seriously.

“This initiative has kept these girls in the system. Their fear has been erased with the girls failing to come to class because of that problem. In most cases when girls are going through this cycle they get some stress. This sanitary pad has made the girls comfortable.”