Tackling Period Poverty

By Donna Atola, Kenya Field Content Specialist

Child Champions in Kenya are tackling damaging messages about menstruation, helping girls afford basic supplies so they can stay in school, and designing bathrooms at Hope Centers to help girls thrive.

Over 800 million girls and women around the globe menstruate daily, and women and girls who don’t live in poverty can maintain good menstrual hygiene management (MHM). However, for a number of the girls from the impoverished societies that OneChild ministers to, the situation is different.

Most of the girls struggle with period poverty. Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, and handwashing facilities.

 

 

In Kenyan communities, like many others around the globe, a number of girls from low-income communities struggle not only with period poverty but also stigma and taboos that directly affect the girls’ dignity, confidence, and self-esteem.

Period poverty keeps kids out of school and even threatens to keep OneChild registered kids from attending sessions at the Hope Centers.

With the government rolling out a free provision of sanitary towels in schools, OneChild has also greatly helped keep the girls in school by providing sanitary pads monthly even during school holidays, educating them on menstrual hygiene management, and fighting against the stigma.

Many cultures in Kenya do not openly speak about menstruation, which means that a number of the girls often do not hear about it until they experience their first menses, which can at times be scary and embarrassing.

For the Maasai community in Kajiado, a county that hosts a number of the OneChild Hope Centers, despite sensitization, the topic is still spoken about in whispers.

“Menstrual hygiene management has been sensitized among the Maasai community, but to date, this topic is frowned upon by the men in the community. Most girls who experience the periods prefer to tell their elder sisters, mothers, or grandmothers about it but in low tones, and it is a secret that is kept away from even their fathers,” says Florence Lekishon, a Child Champion at Nasaru Hope Center (KE-034).

 

 

“This topic is easy for the girls who are already experiencing their monthly periods, but for the young ones who are yet to experience it, they mostly shy away with the fear that boys or men will know they have matured up which affects their playtime and active participation in daily activities.”

Florence also states that women and girls for the semi-nomadic community are not allowed to milk cows or enter goat pens when menstruating.

For the Turkana, a remote tribe of people who are traditionally herders, Joyce Shaban, a matron at Lokwii Hope Center (KE-022), says that menses are surrounded by stereotypes that the community has held on to for a long time. According to Joyce, a girl is considered unclean during her periods and is not allowed to do any exercises in the homestead or chores especially cooking.

Just like the Maasai, the topic is kept a big secret. For the girls in Turkana, menses are highly frowned upon, and most of the time girls keep it for themselves unless for the rare occasions when they share it with their mothers.

This had earlier on affected the performance of the girls in school because most failed to attend school when in their periods, and for those that attended, they would sideline themselves and not play with other children for fear of soiling their school uniforms.

“Feminine bodies are sacred and they were designed uniquely by God, and that includes menstruation. We urge our girls to feel secure and proud about experiencing their periods as a way of acknowledging how unique and beautiful they are.”

World Menstrual Day was on May 28 and was themed, “It’s Time for Action.” Organizers hoped to break the barriers of access to good menstrual hygiene during the pandemic period especially when 65 percent of women and girls in Kenya cannot afford sanitary pads, called sanitary towels there.

Despite repealing the added tax of sanitary towels in Kenya, most girls from impoverished societies can still not afford a packet a month. This has pushed some to use pieces of old rags that are not hygienic or comfortable.

“The towels are easily accessible at the local shopping centers. The main problem is the affordability of the commodity. When a family can barely afford food, the sanitary towel is treated as a non-essential item,” says Nelly Karisa, a Child Champion at Neema Hope Center (KE-042) in Malindi. Nelly’s sentiment is shared by both Joyce and Florence.

However, Florence and Nelly say that menstrual education at the Hope Center has to be taught with the consideration of culture.

“We speak to the girls about it and even in the schools they attend, the topic is spoken about. But we have to separate the girls from the boys, and a female teaches the girls about menses,” shares Florence.

She adds, “This is because most boys will laugh at the girls if the lesson has to be combined, and this will, in turn, lower the girls’ self-esteem, something we don’t want to happen.”

The privacy of the girls during their periods is also promoted at the Hope Centers where separate toilets for the girls have been constructed and water tanks erected in the compounds to help the girls feel comfortable during their menses.

Florence says, “Feminine bodies are sacred and they were designed uniquely by God, and that includes menstruation. We urge our girls to feel secure and proud about experiencing their periods as a way of acknowledging how unique and beautiful they are.”

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