Menstruation and the cycle of poverty (2014)

DSPI PI: Paul Montgomery

Funded by: Economic and Social Research Council

Completed: 2014

Principal Investigator: Dr Catherine Dolan (SOAS)

Female education provides well documented leverage against poverty, often through positive effects on health, productivity and economic growth. Yet, even as more developing countries are achieving gender parity in primary education, female enrolment rates still plummet with puberty’s onset.

This study examined how puberty intersects with girls’ educational futures in Kamuli District, Uganda. The study built on the findings of a pilot study (conducted in Ghana in 2008/9), in which the circumstances of menarche appeared to catalyse a sequence of negative events for girls, with implications for their health, safety, learning, fertility, community involvement, and economic autonomy.

Building on the inferences drawn from the pilot, the study conducted a randomised trial that demonstrated the effects of puberty education and sanitary pads on school attendance, completion and retention, and investigated whether absenteeism that goes otherwise unchecked is articulated through poor performance, discouragement, and drop out.

The study also conducted qualitative research on the links between the material circumstances of menarche and girls’ vulnerability to reproductive health, safety, and economic risks. The research thus advanced research on the implications of puberty for the well-being of girls and for the broader potential to reduce poverty in developing countries.

What do sanitary pads have to do with girls’ education? Plenty, according to a unique research project in Ghana in 2009.

In collaboration with colleagues at Green Templeton College and the Said Business School, CEBI researcher Prof Paul Montgomery conducted a pilot study of the effects of inadequate access to sanitary care products on poor girls’ educational achievements. The study also looked at the relationship between menstruation and education more generally, and potential ways to ensure that girls can get the sanitary care products they need.

After three months, providing sanitary pads and puberty education significantly improved school attendance among the girls in the study. After five months, puberty education alone improved attendance to a similar level as sites where pads were provided with puberty education. The total improvement through pads with education intervention after five months was a 9% increase in attendance, while girls who received no intervention showed no increase in attendance.

Download Prof Paul Montgomery's presentation: 'Sanitary Pads for Girls' Education in Africa'

The difference it makes

The study demonstrates the great potential for implementing a low-cost, rapid-return intervention for girls’ education in a developing country, and has piqued the interest of governments in Kenya and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr Montgomery and colleagues are now launching a larger study in Uganda funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Further information

PLoS One

Journal of Consumer Research

Initial report

Double X Economy Blog

Intervention materials

Download the education intervention manual from the Uganda trial here