”’We’re not talking about rocket ships; we’re talking about sanitary pads,’ she says. ‘Yet they both have the same effect. They take you places.'”
Today is Menstruation Hygiene day. “Menstruation Versus Education initiative” continues to create awareness about importance of good menstrual hygiene management for adolescent girls in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. It’s important to break the taboos and stigma associated with menstruation.
Health and psycho-social aspects related to menstruation remain a challenge to many young girls in school. Sanitation facilities at schools and homes are also poor.
Here is a video of the menstruation state in Kenya Period of Shame: https://youtu.be/1hn822TrKXo
Adolescence is a crucial stage of life and one that is challenging for most girls because of its physical and psychological changes. It is a transitional phase in life from childhood to adulthood, and is something worth celebrating. However, for most girls in Kenyan slums, this phase often brings challenges making the celebration short-lived. One of the major physiological changes in adolescence girls is menstruation. Menstruation is a barrier to the educational rights of girls in Kenyan informal settlements
The effects are quiet significant. The cost of sanitary ware and towels is beyond the reach of most young women and girls living in poverty. This causes adolescent girls to miss school and lose an average of 3- 6 learning days every month during menses which disempowers them as they have to stay at home to avoid staining their clothes with blood in public. Some eventually drop out because of menstruation-related issues. This young girls view menstruation as a time of anxiety and discomfort especially at school, leading to low concentration in class.
The lack of knowledge and understanding about menstruation in most traditional and conservative communities are the key source of stigma about what is a normal, natural biological process. There is also a culture of silence around menstruation leading to the menstrual process being viewed as a weakness of women. The subject is hardly ever discussed in families, resulting in it also not being an easy topic of discussion and engagement even in schools. It is treated with silence and as a taboo topic, which limits women’s and adolescent girls’ access to relevant and important information about their bodies. Most of the research participants view menstrual blood as unclean and harmful
Sanitary pads are difficult to access and expensive for these adolescent girls therefore they end up using cotton wool, old clothes, tissue paper and even pages from their exercise books and sponge from old mattresses. Sadly many girls are forced to engage in sex with older men in order to get money to buy sanitary ware. Elsewhere, in some areas girls use old rags, leaves, cow dung or even dig a hole on the ground to sit on for the whole period as a means to manage their menstrual flow. In an ethnographic study conducted in a primary school in 2010 it was noted that menstruation is not just a private affair but has the potency to become public, embarrassing and often a source of stigma for the girls.
Limited access to safe affordable, convenient and culturally appropriate methods for dealing with menstruation has far reaching implications for rights and physical, social and mental well-being of many adolescent girls in Kenya. It undermines sexual and reproductive health and well-being and has been shown to restrict access to education. Therefore there is need to address the underlying menstrual issues that restrict adolescent girls’ from achieving their full potential in relation to schooling and their public lives. An understanding of how girls reflect on what it means to be a woman in their world, and what such days mean to their schooling is crucial.
The Menstruation Versus Education project is helping to equip adolescent girls in slums with the correct knowledge and information about menstruation and social sexual health. It involves use of football and football related activities as a tool to equip adolescent girls with the information. It builds their confidence and boosts their self-esteem. The girls are also supplied with reusable sanitary towels which when well-maintained can last them for 2 years. This will enable the girls to make informed choices in their lives hence retention of girls in classes during menses, reduction of school drop outs, early pregnancies and other sexually related issues. After the girls are being mentored, they are supposed to pass the information and knowledge gained to others. It also involves sensitization campaigns to empower the community on adolescence and all the issues related to it. This would help in prevention and reduction of stigma associated with menstruation.
The project was initiated and being run by Ann Nduku,a young lady in her mid 20’s who is a social change agent to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty, sexual and reproductive health and make them feel more confident about themselves. She has years of experience working in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya reaching out to young people through HIV/AIDS, Sexual reproductive health, Drug abuse, Leadership and Economic empowerment programs.
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