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Pilot project shows how grants, cash, and menstrual pads can keep adolescent girls in school

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By Agencies

  • The pilot project reduced the school dropout rate for adolescent girls after the COVID-19 pandemic, through complementary social protection and WASH interventions.
  • Menstrual hygiene management kits were critical, improving attendance by over 30%.
  • Income generating activity grants gave adult beneficiaries the chance to start businesses in livestock, poultry, or vegetable farming.

Mavis Tsvakai’s face lights up as you enter the new grocery shop that she opened in August 2022. Less than a year later, her life is a far cry from how she and her family used to get by. Then, she would walk as far as 10kms to farms needing a hired hand, something that was difficult for her seven children, as well as for her husband, who suffered a stroke 10 years ago, rendering her the sole bread winner.

Last year, a $250 income generating activity (IGA) grant helped her set up her store in a trading center “so that we would have an income,” she says. Though Mavis makes about $10 a day on average and pays $30 a month in rent, she recorded brisk business during the 2022 festive season, making $200 on her best day—money that will help her to restock and pay school fees. She supplements this by raising turkey. One of Mavis’s children also receives assistance through the Zimbabwean government’s Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) social program, which covers school fees, examination fees and other levies to support orphaned and vulnerable children aged 4–19 years old, including learners with disabilities.

Mavis’s household is among the beneficiaries of the $0.9 million Piloting Social Protection and WASH interventions to keep adolescent girls in school in Zimbabwe project, which began in December 2021 and ended in September 2022. The project sought to reduce the school dropout rate among adolescent girls resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, by initiating complementary social protection and Water and Sanitary Health (WASH) interventions in Buhera, a district in eastern Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province.

Buhera is one of the poorest and most water-scarce districts in Zimbabwe, and thus easily affected by any increase in household poverty. The pandemic had added to the layered vulnerability of girls living in poverty there, given gender dynamics and the disproportionate impact it had on women and girls. Exceeding its target of 850 households, the pilot project assisted 1,077 households, each with an adolescent girl already registered in the BEAM program.

Beneficiaries received unconditional cash transfer payments of $210 over six months, an IGA grant payment of $250 (in two equal installments), and the delivery of a menstrual hygiene management kit, which included sanitary pads, underwear, masks, sanitizer, soap, and a towel. Chlorine tablets were also given out and sensitization and awareness-raising sessions held for students (boys and girls), parents or guardians, and teachers. These interventions were delivered at household and school levels to provide girls with comprehensive support.

With their IGA grants, adult beneficiaries embarked on different projects that include livestock rearing, poultry rearing, and farming. This includes two households coming together as a joint venture to plant an area of 1.6 hectares (almost 4 acres). For Catherine Mowu and Regina Zhizhombe, collaboration is their means to securing livelihoods for their families, and the joint venture a means to that end. “We decided to partner and grow tomatoes for sale,” they said. “We realized that pooling our funds together would help us sustain our garden.” The ladies are also in a village savings club, a community mechanism of a revolving fund that disburses loans from the proceeds of monthly subscriptions.

The freeing effects of access to menstrual pads

Seated under a tree in rural Buhera, four of the 14 beneficiaries at Zvomoyo Secondary School outline how menstrual pads have been a source of confidence for them. With their similar socio-economic backgrounds, the students easily relate as they narrate their experiences.

“Prior to receiving sanitary pads, we could easily miss school, as we struggled to stand up during lessons in fear that the fabrics we were using as sanitary towels would have spoilt our uniforms,” said one secondary (high) school student. “Additionally, we no longer have to forego school to work on farms with our parents, opting to make money to buy a bar of soap so that we could wash the fabrics we used during menstruation.”

Before the start of the project, the “go to” teacher and Guidance Counsellor, Netty Magocha, would assist students from her personal supplies. “The project has improved attendance as students no longer miss school during menstruation,” she said. “Girls have become more optimistic about completing their studies. I have also observed how, through the cash transfers, parents have been able to buy uniforms. This has greatly improved the learning experience.”

The pilot provided all 1,007 girls menstrual hygiene kits for 12 months. The sensitization and awareness-raising sessions were organized at 48 schools to encourage behavior change in menstrual management and supporting the girl child.

The project was funded by the Zimbabwe Reconstruction Fund and implemented by CARE International. It closed in September 2022. It is hoped it will inform the future policies and programming of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and other government departments, and strengthen their capacities. It shows that interventions which directly target and support adolescent girls by reducing barriers to their continued education, and which also improve their life skills, can contribute significantly to the overall accumulation of human capital—something key to a country’s future.