In Kenya alone, one million girls drop out of school after they start their period for the first time, but ZanaAfrica is working towards improving girls’ education with menstrual products. The ZanaAfrica Foundation is working to help adolescent girls in Kenya to stay in school by providing sanitary pads and reproductive health education.
When young adolescent girls do not have access to sanitary pads, they are more likely to skip class while they are menstruating and eventually drop out of school altogether. Without sanitary pads, girls often resort to using unhygienic materials to cope with their periods, which makes them more susceptible to diseases.
A corresponding lack of reproductive health education makes girls more susceptible to unplanned pregnancies, forced early marriage or female circumcision. The combination of all these factors makes young adolescent girls more likely to drop out of school and fall into a cycle of poverty.
ZanaAfrica is supporting young adolescent girls in their education and their potential to participate fully in society. The Kenyan government is also improving girls’ education with menstrual products. In 2004, Kenya repealed the value-added tax on pads and tampons. Since 2011, the government has used $3 million of the annual federal budget to distribute free sanitary pads to low-income schools.
The government’s involvement, alongside ZanaAfrica, other NGOs and the media have also improved the societal stigma surrounding menstruation. Even the language people use to talk about sanitary pads has shifted in the past few years. Men used to refer to sanitary pads as “this thing that is used by women,” whereas now they are not afraid of the word “pad.”
The Kenyan Ministry of Health has been in the process of developing a national menstruation management policy. While progress is slow and serious questions about implementation hang in the balance, the government’s willing involvement is vital to improving girls’ education with menstrual products.
While the development of management policies is a great step, ZanaAfrica is making significant impacts in the lives of girls across Kenya. In 2016 alone, ZanaAfrica supplied 10,000 girls with sanitary pads, underwear and reproductive health education. Ninety-five percent of girls who participated in the program reported feeling better about their ability to manage their periods and stay in school. Of 400 participants, 100 of them moved to the top 10 percent of their class.
Improving girls’ education with menstrual products gives young adolescent girls the resources they need to manage their menstruation and understand the reproductive health, while they continue to have the opportunities at school to learn, grow and participate fully in society.
– Sydney Lacey