Though menstruation is an unavoidable part of most young women’s lives, for poor girls in Kenya it is life-halting. More than a decade ago, Kenya repealed value-added taxes on female hygiene products, becoming one of the first countries to do so. So why is Kenya handing out free sanitary napkins?

In a country where nearly half the population lives on less than $2 a day, sanitary napkins still remain unaffordable for about 65% of women. Children’s rights groups say many girls in Kenya skip at least four days a month because they cannot afford sanitary pads and want to avoid embarrassment. Consequently, this often leads to them dropping out of school. According to the UN’s education agency, one in 10 girls in Sub–Saharan Africa miss school during their periods. They then miss about 20% of their education.

In June, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed an amendment to the Education Act into law. It now states that “free, sufficient, and quality sanitary towels” must be provided to every girl registered at school along with safe methods of disposal. According to UNESCO, more than 2 million Kenyan girls need support to access female hygiene products. The Kenyan Government showed its continued commitment to female health when it announced plans to create a national menstrual hygiene policy in collaboration with WASH United. WASH United is an international NGO dedicated to issues like hygiene, water, and sanitation.

The new act legally requires the government to provide free sanitary napkins to every menstruating girl in school. In order to meet this obligation, the government set aside a budget of around $5 million for every financial year.

Despite the government’s commitment, the program hasn’t been nearly as effective as hoped. This is mainly due to the lack of tracking to see if the pads reach the girls in schools. In most schools, the teachers steal the pads. One way to avoid this is keeping them in secure areas; girls would ask an intermediary, usually a man, to get the product.

While Kenya still faces challenges with implementing the program, it is a step in the right direction. Providing free sanitary napkins sets an example for developing countries like India, Nepal, and Afghanistan, where girls face similar issues.

According to statistics, many girls lose 4 to 5 days of school every month during menstruation; this is approximately 39 days of learning each year. That’s a lot of school missed! If not for this project’s assistance, thousands of these girls would be absent from school due to a lack of protection during their monthly cycle.

Girls Benefit From Sanitary Towels

Girls from a primary school in Nandi Central have benefitted from free sanitary towels issued to them by the ministry of education.

Speaking during the distribution of 895 packets of sanitary towels at the school’s ground, the County Women Representative Dr. Tecla Tum said the government is investing in the programme to ensure all girls are retained in schools to better their performance.

Dr. Tum said failure for girls to get proper sanitary towels can have negative health consequences in school.

“Provision of sanitary towels in schools improves girl’s health, student class attendance and performance, promotes education and retention of girl child in school,” she said.

Dr. Tum also noted that menstrual hygiene management improves self-esteem among girls and makes them feel comfortable when learning and walking around.

“I am happy because my girls are being taken care of by the government of Kenya. This has improved the transition rate of girls from lower class to upper because most girls are retained in school,” she said.

Dr. Tum advised girls to stop engaging in premarital affairs adding that about 10,000 girls in Nandi County are either pregnant or have already given birth. “To excel in your academics, you have to obey your parents, respect one another and those in authority, and above all love God,” she said.

Nandi Central Deputy County Commissioner Obed Mose assured KCPE candidates that all is well and they should not worry about anything.

“Preparations for our national examinations are in top gear. We have adequate security to ensure the exams are done with no hitch. Candidates should relax because all of you will succeed,” he said.

Mose asked teachers and learners to observe and stick to Covid 19 protocols when walking around to ensure they are safe.

Nandi Central Sub County Director of Education Mr. Anthony Barasa said the level of absenteeism among girls in schools has reduced due to the issuance of sanitary towels.

“As a ministry, we are going to ensure every girl who undergoes these changes is able to receive sanitary towels to enable them to focus on their studies and not feel embarrassed due to the biological process,’ he added.
Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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