OPINION: Menstrual health management is key for boys and girls

By Alvin Mwangi and Lisa MaryAnne

County governments through the office of women representatives have been mandated to provide all school going girls with sanitary towels to ensure that no girl misses school due to period poverty.

The affirmative action fund however hasn’t fully implemented this policy especially during the COVID-19 period as most young girls were out of school.

Period poverty during COVID-19 lockdown was at an all time high exposing adolescent girls to sexual exploitation and abuse in exchange for a packet of sanitary towels.

This was witnessed by increased teen pregnancy rates in 2020 and 2021 and many girls dropping out of school.

Lack of accurate information on menstruation leaves many young girls confused and vulnerable. Young girls must know that menstruation is a sign of health, growth, and development for girls.

It is part of the transition from being a girl to womanhood and it ought to be viewed as a beautiful experience rather than something dirty or disgusting.

In Kenya, period poverty is a huge problem. A huge percentage of girls still do not have access to proper sanitary products.

The cost of sanitary products like undergarments and towels is also beyond the reach of most young women who form majority of the unemployed and and girls living in poverty.

This affects women disproportionately and prevents them from achieving economic and social equality with men.

In June 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed an amendment to the education law that states: free, sufficient, and quality sanitary towels must be provided to every school-registered girl, as well as a safe place to use and dispose of the products.

However, only $5 million was allocated for this purpose. It is a positive step in ending period poverty but it has yet to be properly implemented especially with recurring corruption allegations.

CSOs support #EndPeriodPovertyKe through various programs such as ‘adopt a girl’ where they offer menstruation commodities for needy girls and women as well as production of reusable sanitary pads.

We celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day in 2021 with the global theme of ‘We need to step up action and investment in menstrual health and hygiene now!’

Menstrual hygiene has been on the sidelines of policy development for the longest time until two years ago when the ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy: 2019-2030′ was launched.

The policy aims to ensure that all women and girls in Kenya can manage menstruation hygienically, freely, with dignity without stigma or taboos and with access to; the right information on menstrual health management, menstrual products, services, facilities and to safely dispose of menstrual waste.

We call on the the government, both at the county and national level, to educate community members on existing policies for Menstrual Health Management; to empower advocates of MHM so as to end period stigma and poverty in Kenya; to ensure prosecution of all corruption individuals who take free sanitary pads for school girls and sell them; and to lead audits for the accountability of MHM funds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alvin Mwangi and Lisa MaryAnne are Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) youth experts in Nairobi, Kenya

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