CPAR's Freedom to Learn program in Malawi Banner Image

CPAR's Freedom to Learn program in Malawi

Oct 07, 2022
CPAR is helping girls stay in school with the Freedom to Learn project in Malawi

Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief is partnering with the Fund for Innovation and Transformation, Global Affairs Canada, the Inter-Council Network and Freedom from Fistula on Freedom to Learn – a project aimed at keeping adolescent girls in school by supporting menstrual hygiene management.

The onset of menstruation and the inability to manage menstrual hygiene at school – with no hygiene products, no latrines for privacy, no support from teachers or the school community -- means adolescent girls are missing school and dropping out.

Many girls are compelled by their families to stay home during menses, resulting in missing 5-7 days of school per month. The accumulation of missed schooldays leads to poor school performance and a significant lag behind their male peers causing many girls to drop out of school entirely. CPAR's initial assessment found that absenteeism is 30 percent higher for girls than boys. The community survey conducted by CPAR found that 60% of adolescent girls will miss some school due to menstruation.

Menstrual hygiene products are not readily available in rural communities and are a low priority for households with meagre incomes. Girls and women resort to using unhygienic methods, like scraps of soiled cloth as a poor and dangerous substitute for sanitary products, which increases rates of infection and further exacerbates school absenteeism.  

As a physician-founded organization, we are committed to investing in the health of women and girls.
Through this project, we are focusing on four primary schools in the rural Lilongwe district of Malawi – two of which are part of our Green Schools Network – where students range in age from 11 to 19 years old.  

With the support of teachers, Mother Groups, parent-teacher associations, Chiefs and the Ministry of Health and with funding from CPAR donors and FIT, CPAR is delivering Freedom to Learn by:
  • Distributing reusable sanitary pads and menstrual cups to adolescent girls and teaching hygiene practices for safe effective use of these products
  • Providing material, sewing machines and instruction so girls and Mother Groups can make reusable sanitary pads
  • Holding community conversations with students, teachers, and parents - including boys and men – to challenge cultural beliefs and reduce the ignorance and stigmatism around menstruation and menstrual hygiene management
  • Supporting girls with peer-to-peer communication, advocacy and role modeling by teachers and Mother Groups
Through Freedom to Learn, we are empowering adolescent girls to manage their menstrual health so that they can complete their schooling, interrupt the poverty cycle, and reach their full potential.