- Good menstrual hygiene means complete well-being in relation to the menstrual cycle.
- Pre-covid, 900 million of the 1.9 billion menstruating girls worldwide could not access menstrual hygiene.
- Protecting a young girl means that every woman is empowered.
Period stigma is still a typically slippery agenda in Kenya, despite efforts by the government, individual policymakers, and other stakeholders to normalize this conversation.
The number of vulnerable adolescent girls and women remains high, and the sustainability of the supply of menstrual products is a challenge.
Statistics from the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) show that in Africa, 1 in every 3 women cannot afford sanitary products, and only 2 out of every 5 women have access to safe water and sanitation.
“Good menstrual hygiene means complete well-being in relation to the menstrual cycle in terms of access to menstrual products, water and information.
It is a right to every girl,” stated Camilla Knox-Peebles, Chief Executive of AMREF Health Africa in UK, and a champion of Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH).
Ms. Peebles spoke at a pre-menstrual hygiene day 2023 webinar whose theme was inclined towards approaching systems in innovative ways to improve MHH.
Daily, over 300 million women globally are menstruating. Approximately 500 million lack access to menstrual products and sufficient facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). This is according to the World bank.
Further, statistics from AMREF indicate that before the Covid-19 outbreak, 900 million of the 1.9 billion menstruating girls worldwide could not access menstrual hygiene.
Additionally, the gap has widened, with the pandemic stretching access to the already inadequate resources and facilities.
Ms. Peebles noted that menstrual health is not prioritized in matters of sustainability, seeing that it relates greatly to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but is only interlinked with other goals, thus not clear at the community level.
“Menstrual Health and Hygiene in sustainability can only be associated with SDG 3 (Good health and well-being), 4 (Inclusive and equitable quality education) and 6 (Clean water and sanitation),” she adds.
While addressing the notable gaps in the implementation of MHH, James Atito, alias “The Period Man”, an advocate of MHH, commented that the lack of gender mainstreaming in making and enacting menstrual-related policies is a big gap yet to be closed in the country.
“I first realized that periods exist after my younger sister was given a menstrual cup by the County Government of Mombasa in 2016,” he says.
He discloses that the matter received a lot of opposition as the cups were recyclable, and most men disapproved due to the unfamiliarity of the first-time sanitary product.
“It was then that I started to research with the aim of understanding how a menstrual cup works,” he states.
As a part of the Stretchers Youth Organization in Mombasa, Atito continues to work on breaking the silence and ending the stigma associated with menstruation.
He relates with the stigmatization that many menstruating women from different communities face from men and terms it humiliating, which calls for a gender-inclusive conversation on matters menstrual health.
“In one of my sensitization campaigns in Kakuma, I came across a group of girls lounging out in the field at dusk and my host colleague told me that they stay out of their houses while they get their period as they are not allowed to mingle with others,” he recounts.
Milestones since 2004
Nonetheless, MHH is what it is now as an intersection of several government humanitarian efforts.
Jane Mule, a Principal Public Health Officer in the Ministry of Health, notes that the national government, for over 20 years, has been championing good menstrual hygiene of its women.
In 2004, MoH removed Value Added Tax (VAT) on pads and tampons.
“The work started quite early,” Mrs. Mule comments on the first VAT exception.
In 2011, the government further did away with the import tax on finished menstrual products, and five years later, the tax on imported raw materials to make sanitary products was abolished.
“The journey began in earnest in 2020, which was the pandemic period when the country had the first “Stand Alone” Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy.
In the same year, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) finalized on the standards for reusable sanitary towels, which were not only affordable but long-lasting, compared to single-use pads.
The public officer addressed the issue of sensitization, where she revealed that MoH had sent a total of 181 officers from different ministries and counties for a sensitization session in Asia to quench the demand for training capacity and training tools in all counties across the country.
Presently, most primary schools have received Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) certified menstrual handbooks and factsheets from MoH to ensure young learners get age-appropriate and relevant information on menstruation.
Netizens and advocates of menstrual hygiene have taken on social media platforms with the hashtag #WeAreCommitted as they share various advocacy approaches that will offer a political prioritization to MHH worldwide.
This year’s commemoration theme is dubbed Making Menstruation a Normal Fact of Life by 2030.
World Menstrual Hygiene Day is celebrated every May 28 as a symbol of the five-day period duration of a woman’s menstrual cycle after every 28 days.
However, despite the stigma and marginalization associated with menstrual health in Kenya, different organizations and stakeholders are tapping into efforts to ensure young girls are kept in schools even when they are menstruating.
“We need to challenge the patriarchal attitudes and norms and reduce menstrual stigma to create a conducive environment for those who menstruate, enabling them to manage their periods with dignity and comfort,” noted Ms. Peebles.
She noted that the organization was committed to keeping the girl child in school, whose effect will reduce early pregnancies and marriage as well as see a decline in cases of gender-based violence.
AMREF Health Africa, in support of the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, has been providing age-appropriate MHH information as well as sanitary products to vulnerable girls in Kenya.
In Kenya, the WMHD2023 will be celebrated at the Busia Vocational Training Centre in Busia County, where the governor, Dr. Paul Otuoma, is an MHH Ambassador.
Multi-sectoral, market-based approach
Beating the target to achieve making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030 requires the collaboration of many players.
In the Pre-WMHD2023 webinar, different bodies, such as the Ministry of Health, county governments, and various markets, recommended the private sector’s involvement to contribute to this agenda’s success.
“We have a lot of capital in the private sector that should be tapped to help in the agenda. However, the private sector shy away because of a weak and disenabling market,” commented Dr. Paul Orengo, Chief of Party, USAID, Western Kenya Sanitation Project.
He recommends that engagement with different stakeholders should harness innovation, technology, research and entrepreneurial skills to achieve development outcomes in MHH.
Further, he says that USAID has used an approach of sensitization, research and learning, as well as the provision of safe, quality, and varied products.
“The success of the market-based approach has been opening the spaces to bring actors together and discuss it as a normal biological happening and making it a normal conversation. We are supporting the private sector by giving them penetration points in MHH,” Dr. Orengo noted the milestone.
Different governmental sectors have also lent a hand in ensuring that access to menstrual hygiene is less of a barrier.
The County First Ladies Association has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with one of the organizations that make sanitary towels.
The ‘Pendo’ sanitary pad will be available for KSh45, compared to other pads, which retail between KSh70 and Ksh130 per packet of 10 pads.
“We do not have budgetary allocations on matters menstrual health. However, we find platforms where we speak to decision-makers, governors, County Executive Commissioners (CECs) and women representatives and bring forth these issues and we are happy that they listen,” said Nyamira County first lady, Emily Nyaribo.
She advised a multi-sectoral culture, especially in schools where young boys and girls are experiencing changes in their bodies.
“We need to instill confidence and pride to the young girls and boys as their bodies are changing; we should use our convening power to give them confidence to deal with what is happening in their bodies,” she added.
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Additionally, Mrs. Nyaribo stated that the multi-sectoral approach is appropriate in ensuring budgets are given for purchases of affordable sanitary products for every woman.
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“Protecting a young girl means that every woman is empowered,” she concluded.