One in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school on a monthly basis due to a lack of sanitary towels. Two-thirds of Kenyan women and girls are currently faced with the challenge of using bits of cloth and cotton as they cannot afford sanitary pads. A 2015 study of 3000 women by Dr Penelope Phillips Howard revealed staggering and heart-breaking statistics finding 1 in 10 15-year-old girls were having sex to get money to buy sanitary ware. If these figures do not bring tears to your eyes, I don’t know what will.
28th of May marks World’s Menstruation Hygiene Day. This is a day set aside to talk about the above statistics, break the barriers and silence of menstruation especially in poverty-stricken areas, raise our voices in support of women and girls around the globe and raise awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene. 52% of the female population is of reproductive age thus menstruation is a monthly reality for all these women. Menstruation Health Day was initiated by a German non-profit organisation, WASH United in 2013, a revolutionary idea that has span global interaction with governments and policymakers, individuals, the private sector, the media and nonprofit organisations.
A petition by media personality Janet Mbugua is doing rounds on social media where she demands more action and progress towards MH in Kenya. She is petitioning the Parliament to improve the Menstrual Health Management Policy in Kenya. The Basic Education Act enacted by the Kenyan Parliament in Kenya states that the government will “provide free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl child registered and enrolled in a public basic education institution who has reached puberty.” Considering two-thirds of women and girls are yet to have access to sanitary towels in Kenya, it is clear as day that this policy is only true on paper and biased towards a certain population. What about girls who come from families that barely have enough to eat? Where school is a luxury they can literally not afford? The disabled, girls in refugee camps and women in juvenile institutions and prisons will not have access to pads.
The Daily Nation on 26th October 2017 aired a story of Delvine, a class six pupil from West Pokot Country. Having no one to guide her through the menstrual cycle, she picked up pieces of cloth from a neighbouring tailor and used them once she discovered she had started her periods. She could not attend school as she was not comfortable and was embarrassed by boys who made fun of her when blood was sipping out of her dress, which was often.
This is such a sad reality for thousands of girls in our country. Lack of proper sanitation also includes lack of water, tissue and quality panties in itself breeds infections and sores and makes it even harder for affected girls during the already sensitive and sometimes painful monthly periods. This also causes emotional and physical abuse as young vulnerable girls are also engaging in transactional sex in order to get sanitary pads. Puberty is a critical stage in a girl’s life where she should be affirmed of her inherent power and her promising future and this is not happening.
Lack of information is the biggest cause of bad menstrual hygiene. Girls get scared when they first get their periods thinking that they are bleeding because they have hurt themselves. Conversations about reproductive health are not happening in school or at home. Deeply ingrained taboos and the disintegration of rights of passage are hurting our girls. They are left to navigate such a sensitive and challenging period on their own.
This year’s theme dubbed ‘Its Time for Action’ resonates with Kenya’s current narrative. It is about time we change the definition of menstrual health in Kenya. In this day and age, girls should not be losing 3-7 days of school just because they are having their periods. We need to talk about periods: why is menstruation still holding girls back?
Countries like Japan, South Korea, Zambia and Indonesia are among some of the countries that give menstrual leave to their female employees. This should be a policy that should be taken into consideration. Women go through immense pain and challenges during their cycle and I say to you, take action to ensure a girl is comfortable during their periods. Change starts with you. Change starts with me.
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Featured image via www.rifemagazine.co.uk