Safe Room For Girls To Be Mandatory For Schools

By Lavie Mutanganshuro

Najma Umutoni is a senior five student at GS Remera Protestant in Gasabo District. She says that whenever she is in menstruation period, she at times feels weak and needs a place to rest for a while.

This is an experience that is shared among many women and girls during their period.

Additionally, Umutoni said, “my colleagues and I need pads and other sanitary equipment so as to continue studies while clean and comfortable.”

Umutoni told The New Times that she can now access all these facilities, thanks to a girl’s safe room also known as ‘icyumba cy’umukobwa’ that is available in her school.

However, countrywide, the situation is much different. There are several girl students who can’t access these facilities and end up missing classes so as to avoid stigma.

For instance, statistics from UNICEF indicate that an estimated 1 out of 4 girls miss school every month because of menses.

To solve the issue, under a new draft law governing education in Rwanda which is currently being assessed by parliament, having a girl’s safe room will be mandatory for all schools from primary to university.

The girl’s safe room offers a safe haven for any girl who has unexpectedly gone into her period or any female with menstruation period-related issues.

The room must be equipped with sanitary pads, towels, pain killers, a bed, water, soap etc. and for the girls who cannot afford to buy sanitary pads, the respective school provides them for the duration of the period; free of charge.

In an interview with The New Times, the Minister of Education, Valentine Uwamariya noted that the new bill will reduce absenteeism among girls.

She said: “The government is committed to promoting girls’ education and as has been proven in different schools, girl’s safe room prevent school absenteeism among girls and help them feel more comfortable at school when they are in menstruation periods.”

“We had already urged all schools to have a girls’ safe room, but unfortunately, secondary schools are the only ones adhering to this in high numbers, when instead, primary schools and universities should also set aside that room,” she added.

By putting it in the law, she noted, we are optimistic that it will increase the number of girls’ safe room available countrywide, and therefore promoting the education of girls.

Statistics from the education ministry show that as of 2019, 1,691 primary schools had girl’s safe room country-wide, accounting for 57.1 per cent of all primary schools in Rwanda.

In the same year, 1,189 secondary schools had the room, a number equivalent to 81.9 per cent of all secondary schools in the country.

Also, 220 TVET schools had by then established the girls’ safe room, of the total 331 TVET schools that were available in Rwanda.

Beyond physical space

Sylvie Nsanga, a feminist and human rights activist says that beyond providing equipment that girls need while in menstruation periods, the safe room should serve as a safe and conducive environment where girls can find someone to share with their day to day challenges.

“Making safe rooms mandatory for all schools is a commendable move by the government because it will promote the education of girls and limit school absentia, and therefore ensure good academic performance.”

“However, these rooms should serve as a conducive environment for girls by having an informed counselor to hear any relevant concerns that girls have in their day to day life, and treat them with confidentiality. That person should also teach them about sexual reproductive health,” she said.

She highlighted that if all these are also put into consideration, it will limit teenage pregnancies that are among others caused by ignorance on sexual reproductive health.

Source: The New Times

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