Is There A Period Gap?

Is There A Period Gap?

Let’s discuss school absenteeism and how a lack of hygiene supplies impact girls in sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular in the schools we are working to support.

Education is not freely available to everyone in Zambia. Sadly, girls are the first to be excluded because of extreme poverty. Girls are far more likely to drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy, menstruation, duties around the home, or having to care for younger siblings. There is very little support for girls in these situations.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, 9 million girls between the ages of about 6 and 11 will never go to school at all, compared to 6 million boys. Their disadvantage starts early: 23% of girls don’t attend primary (K-7) schools compared to 19% of boys. By the time they become adolescents, the exclusion rate for girls is 36% compared to 32% for boys.

Poverty is the most significant barrier to accessing an education. But we can overcome this barrier by investing in girls and women. Doing so can improve the health and wealth of an entire nation. When a woman has access to education she can do amazing things like creating her own business, work in the health industry, run schools, and lead governments. All of these things benefit her and her family and the entire community.

Studies show that if a girl is educated:

  • She'll earn up to 25% more per year of secondary school
  • She'll reinvest 90% of her earnings in her family
  • She'll be three times less likely to become HIV-positive
  • She’ll marry later and have a smaller, healthier family
  • She’ll invest in her children’s education and support their studies
  • She’ll resist gender-based violence and discrimination, and change her community from within

Sew Powerful believes that education is the key to escaping extreme poverty. Our research and ongoing conversations with students at Needs Care School proves that it is prevalent for girls to stay home when they are on their period - simply because they don't have the resources to manage it. It has been documented that girls miss an average of 6 weeks of school a year for this reason. That is a massive systematic disadvantage, and one we have focused on changing after asking, “how can we keep the girls in school?”

The goal of our Sew Powerful Purse program is to provide girls with Menstruation Hygiene Management (MHM) supplies and training. All kids need school supplies to help improve educational achievement. But girls, in particular, have this additional health challenge to overcome.

The 7th Grade Exam is a pivotal academic test in Zambia. Here is the Needs Care School exam data from 2012-2018:

We began collecting purses in 2014 and did the first program distribution in Zambia in the summer of 2015.

You’ll notice that for the three years before our program was implemented, the average difference between girls and boys test rates was 8.56%.

For the four years after our program was implemented, it was less than 1% variance. The girls scores were improved.

This approach is not only working but is helping these girls thrive. We can't wait to hear more stories about what these girls and someday, women become within their communities as a result of their solid education.

Our mission is to collect and report on 7th grade exams scores at all the schools we are supporting with the Sew Powerful Purse program. As we get new data, we’ll update this page.

Our program works – and together we are Sew Powerful.




UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)
UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS, 2018)