Community Dialogues: Sensitive public policies important in addressing period poverty

Leaders, activists, psychologists, elders and other changemakers follow proceedings during a community dialogue session by A Million Hugs in partnership with Medi Focus On Africa and Miss President, on September 13, 2023, in Kisii town. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.
  • The dialogue’s case study was pegged on Period Poverty, a snag which Kenya has been hitting all along, hurting many and robbing numerous menstruators of their dignity.
  • With the Gusii region having only one woman elected into political leadership currently, women cannot afford to feel fully represented.
  • Most boys and men rarely understand what happens to women and girls during menses, thus either ignore the whole situation or stigmatize it.

As civilization continues to get etched into our societies, accountable leadership and better, inclusive and considerate policies are being prioritized today more than ever before.

Young leaders being groomed to take up leadership mantles have to now think past the limits of history, displace mediocrity and strategize on the best approaches forward, and be down to earth in dealing with Kenya’s lingering problems.

Civilizing the society through active engagement, interactive conversations, civic education and community dialogues would decolonize it from the shackles of ignorance and unknowingness and help communities understand problems bedevilling them, equipping them on how to pragmatically act and dig themselves out.

On September 13, 2023, A Million Hugs, a mental health and community empowerment organization, in collaboration with Media Focus On Africa, a not-for-profit organization with interests in leadership and good governance, and Miss President, a TV reality show showcasing young women in pursuit of becoming Kenya’s presidents and political leaders in the near future, held a community dialogue around Public Policy in relation to Leadership and Governance in Gusii region and Kenya at large.

The dialogue’s case study was pegged on Period Poverty, a snag which Kenya has been hitting all along, hurting many and robbing numerous menstruators of their dignity.

It was moderated by Jairus Kibagendi, a counselling psychologist and the Founder, A Million Hugs, and was held in Kisii town.

Jairus Kibagendi, a counselling psychologist and the Founder, A Million Hugs, moderating the event. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

Attended by gender and human rights champions and activists, CEOs and Founders of different organizations, community leaders and professionals from diverse fields, Kisii County government officials, Gusii Council of Elders representatives and thinkers from different areas of expertise, the deliberations sought a way out in dealing with period poverty in Kenya through the use of right public policies.

Period poverty is the absence of information about menstrual health and processes, and the lack of menstrual health products such as sanitary pads and water, pushing menstruators on the wall whenever the biological process comes knocking.

The participants were in agreement that while this is a challenge which has stuck with us for centuries, escalated by some punitive cultures and beliefs, coupled with ignorance in finding solutions, it is now time to burst the bubble and figure out long-lasting solutions to it.

They highlighted the dire need to disambiguate leadership jargon and implement accommodative public policies around tackling period poverty.

With the Gusii region having only one woman elected into political leadership currently, apart from the two Women Representatives from the two counties of Kisii and Nyamira, women cannot afford to feel fully represented.

Raising their agitation over the situation, the participants felt that more women are needed in the political spaces to handle women’s and girls’ sensitive issues.

They would also help their male counterparts understand the essence of helping girls, women, and all other menstruators get sanitary products and restore their dignity.

Participants follow proceedings and make contributions during the community dialogue session. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

“It is no news that that we menstruate, yet up to now, many stumbling blocks, stigma and lack of information and sanitary products exist around it. We have not been deliberate in solving this issue, as communities and as a government,” said one of the participants.

Inclusive enlightenment

A bigger portion of the stigma around menstrual health emanates from a lack of knowledge about menstrual health.

Most boys and men rarely understand what happens to women and girls during menses, thus either ignore the whole situation or stigmatize it. They also fail to be of support to their female counterparts during periods.

It is, therefore, important to conduct civic education and empower both women and men, girls and boys, on matters of menstrual hygiene.

Involving both genders in getting and implementing the right policies from the grassroots up the national government levels is essential and would prove more inclusive and, thus, productive.

According to Linet Moruri, an entrepreneur and woman leader, “We’re treating period like a pandemic, instead of normalizing it. This embarrasses those undergoing menstruation and makes them want to hide.”

Equally, disposing of them has been a challenge, with most of the washrooms and environments not being conducive for the girls and women.

Linet Moruri (center), an entrepreneur and woman leader, following proceedings with other participants. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

“Lack of structures has made it hard for menstruators to access the products and the knowledge,” she said.

In families, schools

At the family level, the participants underlined the need for parents to guide their children and engage them on conversations empowering them on how to live with each other.

Alice Kibagendi, a psychologist, noted that period poverty affects the whole country, a reason why many school-going girls are pregnant.

“When growing our kids, as parents, it is our responsibility to guide and inform them,” she says.

Alice Kibagendi, a psychologist, speaks during the occasion. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

Similar conversations need to be escalated to schools, with the boys and girls being educated and empowered to live with each other with dignity and acceptance.

This will help the girls understand themselves and their experiences better, and also help the boys handle the feelings women have by being considerate and understanding.  

According to James Matundura, Chair, the Gusii Council of Elders, “Just as the government supplies books to schools for every child, it should supply free dignity kits to all school-going girls.”

James Matundura, Chair, the Gusii Council of Elders, giving his remarks during the community dialogue. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

Free supply as a government policy

The discussants also proposed that sanitary pad dispensers should be availed to all public places for free through a public policy by the government, just like male condom dispensers are.

He said that as the Council of Elders, they are ready to support any woman needing their support.

The Gusii Council of Elders, through their Chairperson, Mr. Matundura, promised to champion the election and involvement of more women in active politics and leadership. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

“Before the period poverty topic gets on top of the discussion agenda at governmental sittings in parliament, it is a fight,” said Angel Mbuthia, Miss President 2022 Edition.

But even before getting to the government, what are we doing to help those around us?

Ms. Mbuthia challenged that it is upon this generation to handle period poverty comprehensively and find solutions so that the children growing up today won’t need to handle it in the near future.

Angel Mbuthia, Miss President 2022, delivering his speech during the event. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

“We cannot work on it alone, but need to involve more people. I call upon all of you to become ambassadors of change, sharing with each other what we can to afford them dignified periods, and also spread the word that we need changed societies,” she added.

Douglas Arege, Director Youth, Gender and Social Services Kisii County Government, says that the county is strategizing on how to engage more voices, highlighting that the conversation by the county is involving both girls and boys, women and men.

He adds that it becomes easy to live with one another from the point of understanding when we empower both genders.

According to him, Kisii County is getting into partnerships with different organizations interested in gender issues, empowerment and greener/recyclable pads and girl-sensitive toilets, with the ripple effect being empowered communities and easy-to-access sanitary pads for girls and women, among other benefits in the offing.

Douglas Arege, Director Youth, Gender and Social Services Kisii County Government, giving his input. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

“Guide men to understand menstrual health and be part of the conversation,” he says, underscoring the essence of inclusivity.

Approach it correctly

“Methods of approach to issues with cultural aspects is important,” said Obino Nyambane, Director of Culture, Kisii County, in response to instances where some have gone to the extremes while handling period poverty and related issues.

Identifying the different generations living today and how differently they approach issues, he says that convincing societies and changing mindsets needs the right approach for correct understanding and enlightenment for all.

Equally, policymakers should reach out to organizations in pursuit of better approaches and vigor in dignifying girls and women.

On the same, Rachel Otundo, a dynamic woman leader and political enthusiast, says that the government should have and implement a policy affording easy access to the pads and menstruation information and conducive environments free from stigma.

Rachel Otundo giving her remarks during the discussion. PHOTO/A Million Hugs.

“The government should also do away with levies on menstrual products to make them cheaper and easily affordable by all, as well as building factories for localized production,” she added.

In leadership and governance, period poverty has been a major hindrance because from early ages, women have been looked down upon, and when in their menses, they are almost never clearly understood by their male counterparts, making them feel lesser, discriminated and ignored.

The feeling robs them of their self-esteem, incapacitating them to handle matters of national importance with courage.

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“Involve more political women leaders, especially women representatives, and also incorporate men, in escalating sensitization campaigns over the issue,” said Mrs. Otundo. 

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Mr. Makau holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, Media & Communication from Moi University, Kenya. He is a Columnist and Editor with Scholar Media Africa, with a keen interest in Education, Health, Climate Change, and Literature. His contact: b.makau@scholarmedia.africa.

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