May 28, 2015 Project Humanity is proud to be a participant in Menstrual Hygiene Day. Through our work in Kenya we’re assisting to advance women’s health and empowerment.
Fact: Girls in Kenya miss 4.6 days of school a month because of their period. #MenstrationMatters
How education and menstrual cups are changing girls’ lives in East Africa
By Femme International
It won’t surprise you to hear that women are among the world’s most vulnerable populations. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that women face more challenges than men, as they are often primary caregivers to their families while trying to survive in a patriarchal system. But it might surprise you to learn that one of the most difficult parts about being a woman is also one of the most natural: menstruation. Despite the fact that the shared experience of menstruation affects women around the world, it is rarely talked about, and is not included in a lot of international development programming. That is part of the problem.
A girl’s transition into womanhood is often marked by the beginning of her menstrual cycle, an occasion that is celebrated in many cultures as an important rite of passage. But in many parts of East Africa, it marks the beginning of a lifetime of discomfort, embarrassing health problems, and even harassment. It marks the beginning of schoolyard bullying, missed days of school, and the start of a lifetime viewed as a sexual object. There is a cultural taboo that surrounds menstruation, which often prevent women and girls from going about their daily lives during their period. In fact, it’s because of these reasons, menstruation is the number one reason why girls in developing countries miss school, or drop-out altogether.
In Kenya, the cheapest package of sanitary pads in costs 55 KSH — approximately $0.75 CAD. For a country where the average daily wage of unskilled labourers is just about double that, purchasing sanitary pads is a luxury for most women. Women often are unable to control finances, and having to ask for money to purchase pads each month is often a source of shame. As a result, girls will resort to using alternative methods of menstrual management, such as rags, leaves, newspaper, bits of mattress stuffing, even mud. As you can imagine, these methods are not comfortable, nor are they effective, and they can lead to very serious health concerns. They certainly don’t help girls feel clean or confident.
“It is very difficult for the girls in school, because buying sanitary pads in Mathare is very difficult. I see them miss school often so I try and help them, but it is hard. Many work jobs such as domestic help and laundry to make money, and so they come to school very tired. Sometimes they just stop coming to school because they are embarrassed when they stain their uniforms.” – Madame Beatrice, Head Teacher at Genesis Joy School in Mathare slum, Nairobi.
Girls in Kenya will miss an average of 4.9 days of school each month due to her period — adding up to 20 percent of the school year. This puts female students at a distinct disadvantage as they enter secondary school and severely decreases her odds of continuing on to post-secondary school. If schools had the resources and commitment to teaching menstrual health education to their students, girl’s attendance would improve, academic performance would improve, and their overall self-confidence would improve. However, the cultural stigma prevents However, the cultural stigma prevents menstruation from being included in the curriculum.
Providing menstrual health education needs to be a priority, and is the first step to breaking down the stigma. It is important for girls to understand how their bodies work, and why they menstruate each month, so they can learn to properly manage their cycles.
We need to start the conversation about menstruation in schools, community groups and community leaders to start breaking down the stigma! By normalizing the topic through discussion and education, we can change the language used from negative to positive, and help young girls grow to feel comfortable and confident about their bodies.
“When I got my first period, I didn’t know what was happening to me! I felt sick so I went to the bathroom and saw the blood. I thought I had been cut, and was very scared. Then I went to my teacher to tell her what had happened, and she told me it was my period.” – Mary, age 17, Mathare slum, Nairobi.
Providing access to healthy and sustainable menstrual management materials allows women to stay safe, and healthy, and does not sacrifice her ability to participate in work, school or daily activities.
Menstrual cups are made out of surgical grade silicone and are inserted into the vagina to collect, rather than absorb menstrual fluid, and are overall a much healthier option for a woman’s body. Unlike tampons and pads that contain harmful bleaches and chemicals, menstrual cups have no negative side effects on a woman’s body and there is no threat of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
When inserted correctly, the cup sits about half an inch inside the vagina, and creates a vacuum seal to prevent leakage. The cups provide 12 hours of comfortable, leak-free protection, and can be reused for up to 10 years — making it an economically wise and sustainable solution. For women in North America, it makes your period simple and hassle-free. For women in developing countries, it can be a life-changing solution.
“I no longer have to fear my period. I am very excited to share with my sister what I have learned in the workshop. I love my Ruby Cup because I will be able to save money and stay in school and succeed, because I want to become a doctor.” – Mary, age 18, Mathare slum, Nairobi
Menstrual cups create economic freedom and relieve the financial burden of menstruation. Without having to budget for sanitary pads each month, women are better able to provide for themselves and their families.
Having 12 hours of protection allows women to go about her life without having to worry about locating latrines — a major challenge in many communities. Menstrual cups give a woman control over her body, and enables her to take advantage of every professional and academic opportunity to come her way.
“I feel free! I can do anything, like run and dance, even swim.” – Esther, age 16, Mathare slum, Nairobi
Initiatives like Femme International’s Feminine Health Management Program has developed an innovative and effective program that not only provides essential health education to schoolgirls, but also provides them with sustainable forms of menstrual management.
This combination of education and distribution tackles the problem of deliberate absenteeism from the ground up, and provides young girls with the tools they need to stay safe, healthy and confident — every day of the month!
For more information about Femme International’s work, please visit www.femmeinternational.org
Menstruation is a natural part of every woman’s life, and it should never be seen as a source of embarrassment. It should certainly not isolate, oppress or shame women. Providing menstrual health education to young women empowers them to reach their potential and become strong, active and confident members of their communities.
The global Menstrual Hygiene Day initiative is about starting the conversation about menstruation, and breaking the taboo through education and awareness, because Menstruation Matters – every day of the month!