Lack of sanitary towels is one of the leading causes of girls’ absenteeism or dropping out of school in Uganda. Indeed the schoolgirls report a range of concerns including fear, shame and embarrassment, leading to three in every 10 students missing school because of menstruation.
In the fight for re-election during 2016 Ugandan election campaign, the president Yoweri Museveni pledged to stop school girls' serious absenteeism problem and poor performance by providing them with free sanitary pads. However, in February 2017, the education minister, Janet Museveni, told the Parliament's Education Committee that the promised free sanitary pads were not going to happen because the country was facing a tough economic climate.
For Dr. Stella Nyanzi, a research fellow at Makerere University, the announcement that her country’s government could not afford to supply sanitary towels to schoolgirls was another broken campaign promise. She decided that if the government was not going to do it, she would by launching a highly-publicized campaign to draw attention to girls’ unequal access to education. Therefore, she started mobilizing supporters, raising money, and collecting in-kind donations to provide supplies directly. Nyanzi’s #Pads4Girls campaign to keep girls in school was born.
In the same time, she criticized the government for backtracking on an electoral promise, unleashing a torrent of criticism toward President Museveni, his wife and his supporters. Her criticisms, always pointed and sometimes profane, flowed into her Facebook timeline.
On Friday April 7, after a talk at Mackinnon Suites Hotel during a fundraising drive with Kampala’s Rotary Club members, she was arrested, on the same day that she was supposed to deliver pads to the former parliamentary district of the first lady. Under Uganda’s Computer Misuse Act, she was charged with "cyber-harassment" and “offensive communication” for Facebook posts referring, in particular, to president Museveni as a “pair of buttocks”. She spent more than a month in maximum security prison before being released on bail. In court the state, referring to the Mental Treatment Act of 1938, argued that Nyanzi’s words were so morally decadent that she should be subjected to mental examination.
Charges remain pending.