• Various studies have found that girls in low-income settings miss or struggle at school during menstruation because they cannot afford sanitary pads.
• Additionally, it has been found that 95 per cent of the girls sometimes miss school due to menstruation.
lt has become difficult for girls to manage their periods safely and with dignity during this Covid-19 pandemic.
A recent study done in Nairobi’s low-income areas showed that girls and women continue to face practical and psychological challenges during menstruation.
Access to menstrual hygiene products is still a major challenge in developing countries and is an aspect of water, sanitation and hygiene that is often overlooked.
Lack of access to menstrual hygiene products can often mean that women and girls have considerable difficulty in going about their lives during menstruation and can be almost entirely restricted to their homes.
Various studies have found that girls in low-income settings miss or struggle at school during menstruation because they cannot afford sanitary pads. Additionally, it has been found that 95 per cent of the girls sometimes miss school due to menstruation.
It thus emerges that safe, accessible menstrual hygiene products have a considerable positive impact on women and girls’ occupational, social and educational capacity. Many of the girls who were getting free and quality sanitary towels in school have no access after closure of leaning institutions after the outbreak of coronavirus in Kenya.
Sexual and reproductive health needs of girls should not be overlooked during this period, which has also affected a lot of livelihoods.
A research by Menstrual Hygiene Day, a global advocacy platform for non-profit organisations and government agencies to promote menstrual health, shows 65 per cent of women and girls in Kenya are unable to afford sanitary pads. A project was funded by the government in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund in Kenya to provide girls with sanitary towels. It is still not enough.
The UN Population Fund has called for special attention to menstrual health items since supply chains have been disrupted by the pandemic. The Basic Education (Amendment) Act requires the government to provide free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl in public schools.
Some girls are forced to turn to prostitution and child labour to afford the pads, while others are using unhealthy materials.
lt is thus imperative for the government to reduce the price of the sanitary pads to the level of face masks, which were initially as high as Sh100. This will ensure the poor girls have access to these towels as the key methods to increase access to are improving availability and affordability, and improving understanding of this topic in the community.
To achieve this, the government can contract counties making PPE and other items used in war on Covid-19 to also produce affordable sanitary pads.
The government should also give special consideration to physically challenged girls who even need these towels most.
Better understanding also decreases the stigma that women and girls may feel regarding buying menstrual hygiene products from a shop, and increases the likelihood that men in charge of a family’s finances will provide them.
Veronica Onjoro, Mombasa