A startling 75% of girls’ absences from school are attributed to lack of access to sanitary pads and related health education. This translates to approximately six weeks out of school each year, hindering academic performance and the fight for continued investment in their education.
A global leader in the endeavor to advocate for women’s hygiene as a fundamental human right, Kenya has taken great strides to incorporate pads into government budgets for schoolgirls. Since 2006, the government has joined the National Sanitary Towel Campaign and its Coordinating Committee and instituted a Gender Policy in Education; over the past three years, the government has provided a budget between $2.5-$3.5M for pads, serving up to 400,000 girls per year. This is a true global first.
But policy, legislation and budgets in support of girls and women cannot be further influenced or justified without support of real-time, relevant, gender-desegregated data.
This is where ZanaAfrica comes in. Founded in 2007 by the woman who launched the National Sanitary Towels Campaign, the hybrid social enterprise is dedicated to investing in women and girls through the local production and distribution of affordable sanitary pads and the provision of access to relevant health information. As of late, ZanaAfrica has focused on leveraging mobile applications and geographic information systems (GIS) to collect the digital school records and data that the Government of Kenya needs to develop a pro-girl policy – one that can eventually be scaled up beyond Kenya to replicate on an international level.
In February of this year, ZanaAfrica launched a first-of-its-kind mobile phone application to coordinate and map distribution of sanitary pads: The Nia Network. The purpose (or “nia” in Kiswahili) behind the app, funded by Chase Group (Kenya) Foundation, is to help distributors coordinate and work together in ensuring all girls in Kenyan schools get the pads and underwear they need to help them stay in school and live up to their full potential. At least 1M girls in Kenya are at risk of dropping out without this intervention.
Distributors download the app, create a profile and select the schools they will serve from the Open Data Kenya database. When they visit a school, distributors take a photo of the class and record how many girls they reached and how many pads and underwear they distributed; the school’s profile then appears on the map linked to the distributor.
The app will soon be expanded to include the ability to collect and document data to efficiently assess the impact of the pads and health education on school metrics (e.g. attendance, performance and retention). The enterprise hopes to begin a randomized control study in 2014, tracking 200 schools and 3,000 girls to reveal deeper insights into impact and trends. Thanks to this mobile application, the study can be performed at a 50% cut in data collection costs.
ZanaAfrica also notes the app’s potential to serve as a platform for student empowerment. By granting them access to their own individual data, students can become better acquainted with technology while enjoying a safe, online identity and exercising their voice through activities like the nomination of teachers or reports on abuse. The GIS technology the app utilizes can also be leveraged to connect students to local resources (like dentists or gynecologists) and link them to other educational support services (including other school-related apps).
Within the next two years, ZanaAfrica hopes to create a standard methodology for pad distribution and for the Ministry of Education to mandate donors use the app in order to promote accountable and transparent practices. Within the next five years, the enterprise hopes the Ministry would see the case to adopt the app as their method for collecting real-time attendance and performance data for all students in all schools – enhancing their ability to evaluate data across gender, age, and intervention to better inform policy.
ZanaAfrica would ultimately like to see this sort of mobile application widely used outside of Kenya by other governments interested in collecting data, supporting pad distribution and better informing pro-girl policy; they hope to pilot the app with at least two other African governments over the course of the next five years.
An additional long-term, big-picture vision of The Nia Network app is to create cost-effective practices that can be licensed by NGOs across various interventions and sectors to achieve dramatically affordable monitoring and evaluation of their work.
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