According to the African population and health Centre (APHRC), Limited access to safe affordable, convenient and culturally appropriate methods for dealing with menstruation has far reached implications for rights and physical, social and mental well-being of many women and adolescent girls in Kenya, it undermines sexual and reproductive health and has been shown to restrict access to education
UNESCO estimates that one in 10 African adolescent girls in remote areas misses school during their menses and eventually drops out because of menstruation related issues. Studies have shown that many girls in Kenya miss 3-5 days of school every month during their monthly periods due to lack of sanitary towels, Any teacher would tell you that a girl without access to sanitary towels feels embarrassed, unhygienic and uncomfortable, she also loses self-esteem and with that the confidence to interact with her classmates or with teachers in the classroom. This deliberate absenteeism is mainly as a result of lack of financial resources to afford the cost of conventional sanitary towels available in the market. Most of these girls as well as women are forced to use unhygienic clothing materials to keep dry during their menses, a situation that on many occasions causes embarrassment to users as the materials are leaky, to avoid such situations; these girls avoid school while women curtailcertain social engagements that would expose their vulnerable state. This makes it hard for female students to compete with their male counterparts in education putting the female child a step behind throughout life.
A girl absent from school for four days in 28 days (month) loses 13 learning days equivalent to two weeks of learning in every school term. In an academic year (nine months) a girl loses 39 learning days equivalent to six weeks of learning time. A girl in primary school between grades 6 and 8 (three years) loses 18 learning weeks out of 108 weeks. Within the four years of high school a girl can lose 156 learning days equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning in high school.
The amount of money allocated for provision of free sanitary towels was slashed by 99 million shillings in the financial year 2013/2014, this is the 300 million shillings allocated previously to the ministry of education for the provision of sanitary towels to 568,925 needy girls between class 6 and 8, a fraction of the 2.5 million in need of the towels. This means that only 1/3 of the targeted girls will benefit. Recently on citizen TV there was a shocking story about young girls in Marigat,Baringo county who use chicken feathers, goat skin, soil and even leaves during their periods due to lack of options, as shocking as this can be, it is happening, many girls are forced to use unhygienic methods to keep dry during their monthly period. Some girls dig a hole and sit on it throughout the period meaning they miss school, others cut pieces of blankets and clothing, some cases are too shocking and sad to even imagine.
The issue of lacking sanitary towels in Kenya is not new, what is new is more people are informed and have become aware of the situation and more people can now take action. It is not enough to be shocked and sympathize and talk about it. We all need to do something about it, this is the first step in empowering women making sure the girl child is in a position to compete with her male counterparts in school, instill confidence and self-esteem, girls need sanitary towels, many cannot afford them and this is the reality. A packet of sanitary towels costs ksh 40 that is about $0.50 so we should do something. Are there people and organizations doing something about this? Yes. Is there enough being done. No. There are areas on the map that do not benefit at all, more and more girls are being born every day and a lot needs to be done.
As projects and campaigns are being carried out to provide sanitary ware, there is also need to provide information to girls about their bodies and menstruation itself. Studies have shown that there exists limited knowledge about the biological process of menstruation among girls and women living in remote areas and slums, many women and adolescent girls in Kenya have limited knowledge about their bodies, especially in relation to menstruation and sexual and reproductive health. In some parts of Kenya menstruation is treated with silence and as a taboo topic, this limits women’s and girls’ access to relevant and important information.
If something is not done and if the government does not keep its word it means, as one website campaigning for sanitary towels in schools put it, “Kenya is unlikely to achieve Education for all (EFA) goals and gender parity by 2015 or the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)