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WORLD MENSTRUAL HYGIENE DAY

Menses: The bane of African girl’s life

Menstruation is much more than an inconvenience to many girls in the region.

In Summary
  • Not only is social stigma enveloped around every girl during her period, it also presents an economic burden to many girls in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • I don’t know about you, but I am a period warrior because a precious girl’s life depends on it.
Menstrual Hygiene Day
Menstrual Hygiene Day
Image: OZONE

Thirteen-year-old Amina from Moyale misses five days of school every month. Her father, who was averse to taking her to school in the first place, wonders if she is a ‘worthwhile investment’. Achieng from Kibera is faced with the difficult choice every month between food for her seven children and sanitary pads for herself.

Twenty-four-year-old university student Stella writhes in mind-numbing pain every month, little does she know that she has undiagnosed endometriosis. James says he would rather buy condoms than contend with the shame of buying sanitary pads for his girlfriend at his local kiosk.

On any given day, more than 800 million girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating. Chances are that in every meeting you get into, public service vehicle you board, church service you attend, there is a woman or two on their monthly period.

 

Astounding! Yet, conversations around menstruation are shrouded in shame and secrecy, with only 50 per cent of girls saying they openly discuss menstruation at home. Euphemisms such as Aunty Flo, code red, Bloody Mary, rolling, are often used to couch this natural and normal occurrence in every woman’s life.

Unesco estimates that one in 10 African adolescent girls miss school during their menses and eventually drop out because of menstruation-related issues such as the inaccessibility of affordable sanitary protection, the social taboos related to menstruation and the culture of silence that surrounds it.

Sixty-five per cent of women and girls in Kenya cannot afford sanitary pads, with many opting for cheaper but unhygienic options such as cow-hide, pieces of mattress, old T-shirts or cotton wool. Do I have your attention now?

Not only is social stigma enveloped around every girl during her period, it also presents an economic burden to many girls in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. Menstruation is much more than an inconvenience to many girls in the region.

Let’s do some simple math: The average length of a girl’s period is four days. One will require at least four sanitary pads per day (majority of girls in Kenya use sanitary pads). A girl will therefore use about 16 pads during her cycle. Sixteen pads per cycle will cost approximately Sh 200. For Sh200, one can buy three litres of milk or three kilogrammes of maize flour. If the choice is between sanitary towels and food, the decision is a no-brainer.

Sixty-five per cent of women and girls in Kenya cannot afford sanitary pads, with many opting for cheaper but unhygienic options such as cow-hide, pieces of mattress, old T-shirts or cotton wool. Do I have your attention now?

Over glasses of wine, breakfast spreads and dinners, after countless conversations and deliberations, Janet and I discussed menstrual hygiene management; the troubling slow pace of policy formulation and implementation, the heart-wrenching life stories she encounters daily, the unfortunate predicament of choice between pads and food for many girls, the pervasive social stigma and shame around periods that in many cases leads to isolation and in some suicide, the over-priced sanitary products in the market, the countless girls with undiagnosed reproductive conditions and what we must do to ensure safety and dignity is restored for all girls and women.

As a woman who has never had to worry about the cost of sanitary products, who has never missed school or work because of this ‘monthly inconvenience’, I had to immediately check my privilege. Janet’s relentless appeals on this issue ceased being a rant and rave and became a poignant plea to quite literally save the life of a girl on this continent!

 

As I undertook research for the book, I gained a profound understanding of how imperative it is for systems, structures, pieces of legislation, frameworks, governments, organisations, you and me, to step up! I don’t know about you, but I am a period warrior because a precious girl’s life depends on it.

Communications and policy specialist