I once heard a story about girls who used to dig up the soil and sit in it while they were on their periods because they couldn’t access sanitary products. I thought it was absurd. Periods are already super uncomfortable as they are, and I cannot imagine someone having to sit in one position for hours. It most definitely has a mental impact on the individual as well. It’s a depressing situation.
Apparently there’s more to such stories. In India for example, some women who don’t have the money to buy themselves sanitary pads or even clean cloth to soak up their periods’ resort to padding their underwear with soil or even ash. Thinking about this from the surface, using soil and/or ash most definitely affects the pH of the vagina and can thereby lead to fungal and bacterial infections. It is most definitely unsafe. From animal skins and old rags to cow patties and silicon cups, women around the world use all sorts of materials to manage their periods each month. Basic necessities for dealing properly with menstruation, such as access to clean water or a decent toilet, are simply unavailable to millions of women and girls.
By definition, period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and, or, waste management. In Kenya, 65% of women are unable to access sanitary towels. One million girls in our country miss school each month because they cannot afford sanitary pads, while some share used ones. This translates to the female gender lagging behind in terms of academic development.
The consequences of period poverty include lower quality of education, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. On the extreme end of the spectrum, some women resort to suicide when they cannot manage the situation. Period poverty undoubtedly lowers the quality of life of the individual. Shaming Women: Why is menstruation such a big deal?
Over the last five years, there has been growing momentum around improving women’s menstrual health. Various sectors including the Kenyan government, international donors, local NGOs, and social enterprises are making various efforts to improve MHM and, in some cases, menstrual health more broadly. Most of the efforts to date focus on providing products to manage menstruation and limited interventions seek to increase menstruation awareness. Although sanitation remains a significant barrier, gendered approaches to sanitation remain limited.
Some of the solutions to fighting period poverty include the use of reusable products. Normally, the cheapest pack of eight sanitary towels costs about 50 Kenyan shillings. It is clear, through the statistics above that a majority of our population cannot afford this. As of 2019, the minimum wage in Kenya was 13,572 Kenya shillings per month. If you calculate this, it translates to 433 Kenya shillings daily. This money is supposed to be inclusive of basic necessities such as food and shelter, thereby making sanitary towels a luxury rather than a necessity. The solution? To provide reusable sanitary towels made from cloth, or even menstrual cups. That way, people can secure proper absorbent material for their periods.
The problem is that reusable menstrual products need to be cleaned thoroughly between the uses, and yet The WASH joint monitoring programme report (2019) by The World Health Organization and UNICEF found that only 59% of Kenyans have access to basic water services and only 29% have access to sanitary services. In dealing with the problem of menstrual hygiene, we must also consider that access to clean water is a major problem in the country.
Whatever the case, we must fight for women across the country to be able to have access to sanitary pads and proper menstrual hygiene education. In the same way that institutions fight for condoms to be put in public places, I believe that sanitary towels should also be provided for free to every woman out there who needs one. Having access to sanitary pads is not a luxury. It is a basic human right.
“A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”