When Tenaye Ashenafi had her first period, she was at school, where other kids ridiculed and laughed at her. She run back home and showed her blood stained cloth to her mother. “But even my mother didn’t know about sanitary pads, let alone me,” Tenaye says.

She managed her period using pieces of ‘gabi,’ a traditional cotton blanket, as her mother advised her. The next time her uniform got stains of blood, she didn’t run home to her mother but to her Maths teacher, also a director of the Gender Club in her school, Simret. Tenaye learned not only how to use sanitary pads but also how to make reusable sanitary pads at the Gender Club.

Simret Getaneh, 24, has been a Maths teacher for the past four years at Ras Desta Damtew Primary School, in Yirgalem, SNNPR (Southern Nations Nationalities People Region), Ethiopia.

Soon after Simret joined the School, she took over the leadership role of the Gender Club in the school, which was inactive. She later took part in gender mainstreaming and gender responsive pedagogy (GRP) training organized by UNESCO-HNA in the school. The training is aimed at building teachers’ competencies mainstreaming gender responsive pedagogy into lessons and learning activities within classroom and co-curricular activities.

As part of the project activities UNESCO-HNA provided sanitary pads and other sanitary products to the school. In order to keep this initiative sustainable, Simret started making reusable sanitary pads at the gender club. “Most of the students are from low income families, whose parents are mostly daily laborers or even beggars, so they can’t afford to buy sanitary pads,” she says.

Though Simret has been working on gender issues for four years, she learned that gender responsiveness involved both girls’ and boys’ participation, at the training. Thus she insists on the need to involve the boys in gender interventions. According to Simret, the boys used to despise the girls so much so they sit separately in class. But now these same boys are making reusable sanitary pads with the girls at the Gender Club. Merid Kenbata, 17, is one of the male members of the Gender club and has also taken part of in the life skill training organized by UNESCO-HNA. “I like to work with the girls and contribute in minimizing their cost for menstrual pads; as they are relived of their stress on such matters, they can achieve better in their studies” says Merid.

In Ras Desta Primary School, female students often drop out of school to get married at an early age. Due to Simret’s consistent mentorship, many girls were able to continue their education. Simret mentions that dropouts due to early marriage had decreased after the club’s intervention.

Ras Desta Dantew Primary School According to Merinda Teklu, the director of the school all the 56 female teachers and 61 of the male teachers are trained on Gender Responsive Pedagogy. She adds that Simert is one of the teachers that made a great impact following the training. She mentioned that, “ Most of the girl students used to miss class when they were on their periods because they could not afford sanitary pads, but now thanks to Simret they can make sanitary pads themselves.”

She also testifies that Simret empowers most of the girl students to say no to early marriages and instead achieve better in their school.

According to Merinda, following UNESCO- HNA interventions, the number of students who passed the 10th grade national exam has increased from 69% in 2016/17 to 73% in 2017/18. From these students, three female students got scholarship, a chance that used to only be attained only by male students in the past years.

Ras Desta Dantew Primary School is one of the target schools for UNESCO-Hainan Foundation Funds-in-Trust Project on “Enhancing the Quality and Relevance of Education for Adolescent Girls in Ethiopia.” The UNESCO-HNA project aims at contributing to ensuring girls’ right to quality and relevant education in schools like Ras Desta, whereby all girls access, stay, transition and achieve education for better lives/livelihoods.