Menstruation and the cycle of poverty

This study examines how puberty intersects with girls’ educational futures in Kamuli District, Uganda. 

Principal Investigators: Professor Paul Montgomery and 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.

The study builds 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 will conduct a randomised trial that will demonstrate the effects of puberty education and sanitary pads on school attendance, completion and retention, and investigate whether absenteeism that goes otherwise unchecked is articulated through poor performance, discouragement, and drop out.

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

About the project

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).

Intervention materials

Download the education intervention manual from the Uganda trial here

Further information

Recent media coverage

Related outputs and publications