By Nuru Ahmed
Every May 28, nonprofits, government agencies, private sector, media, and individuals come together to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) and advocate for the importance of good menstrual hygiene management (MHM).
This year, MH Day recognizes that periods do not stop for pandemics and will continue to drive home the idea It’s Time for Action. This theme highlights the urgency for the collective work needed to both change the negative social norms surrounding menstruation and also catalyze progress toward empowering women and girls to unlock their educational and economic opportunities.
Over 800 million women and girls menstruate every day, yet across the globe they face barriers to properly managing their periods. The social stigmas and taboos surrounding menstruation often prevent women and girls from attending work and school. Even when they do attend while menstruating, the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, lack of sanitation infrastructure such as private toilets and hand washing facilities, and lack of menstrual hygiene education can prevent women and girls from reaching their full potential in the classroom, in the workplace and at home.
As the world marked the MH DAY, Kenya celebrated its day in Tharaka Nithi to address the hardships and challenges faced by girls and women during menstruation and confronting stigmas attached to it. Over 500 girls and women were given sanitary towels which will help them for three months.
J.B. Kilimo, the chairperson of Anti Genital Mutilation Committee said “women and girls extremely face hard challenges and unhygienic ways of dealing with periods since sanitary towels are unavailable for most of them hindering them to effectively and efficiently manage periods and we must protect them from soiling.”
She urged Kenyans to hold open debates on matters to break stigmas surrounding menstruation periods for the Girlchild in the society. “There is need to make monthly periods for most women and girls a simple routine by having clean and plentiful public toilets and enough sanitary towels which are affordable for them to purchase.”
Two community based organizations; Mad Sisters a center for Girls by Girls exist to empower young girls in Kibera to believe in themselves and their potential and they believe strong girls make strong communities and Superb Organization whose goal is to eradicate poverty, reduce vulnerability of children and youth living in the urban slum through vocational and formal education also took part in celebrating the MH day in Kibera.
Susan Mueni of Mad sisters said, “We recognize that periods do not stop for pandemics, many teenage girls in the slum do not have access to sanitary towels which is a challenge for them to engage in social activities like going to school, attending educational seminars and socializing with friends. This makes them stay indoors until they finish their cycle of either 3,4,5,or 6 days of menstruating. Therefore we are here to help the Girl child live happily, freely and courageous with menstruation. “
Yasmeen Muhammad the founder of Superb added : “Menstruation does not stop for pandemics, we do provide teenagers and women have access to sanitary towels and food during this pandemic. We educate them how to use the towels so that they can do their chores freely without any stigma from the community during this era of Covid-19 pandemic.”
Aisha Salim is a 14 year old girl in standard eight and shared her experience on menstruation health as compared when she was at school and home.
“At school we receive free sanitary towels but since the pandemic started we are just home which makes it hard to afford the towels and usually my friends give me some few pieces of the sanitary towels which I cannot use for all the four to five days of menstruating. She added that her mother does not have money to frequently buy her the sanitary towels making it very hard for her to cope with menstruation during this pandemic,” she said.
The inability to manage menstruation prevents millions of women and girls from reaching their full potential. Lack of education and accurate information on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) issues, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products, and poor sanitation infrastructure are some of the factors that undermine the educational opportunities, health, dignity, and social status of women and girls around the world.