Period Poverty in Kenya
Period poverty is widespread through many parts of the world, where women miss school while menstruating, cannot afford sanitary products and are misinformed about their own biology. Kenya in particular experiences this problem, since 65 percent of Kenyan women cannot afford sanitary napkins. Period poverty affects women in Kenya in disproportional ways that prevent them from achieving economic and social equality with men.

5 Facts about Period Poverty in Kenya

  1. Some women have traded sex for sanitary products. Shockingly, two out of three feminine pad users in rural Kenya receive their products from sexual partners. Perhaps the saddest outcome of how period poverty affects women in Kenya is the fact that these women exchange sex in return for feminine products, sometimes at ages as young as 13. This can further complicate girls’ lives because of the culture of miseducation. One in four girls do not associate menstruation with pregnancy and therefore do not realize the risks of engaging in sexual relations.
  2. Ten percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa, where Kenya is located, miss school when menstruating. Because of the culture of shame surrounding menstruation, girls often miss school while menstruating since they do not have the proper products to deal with their period. Very few girls receive education about their period before it begins and according to recent research many girls are misinformed. For example, there is a belief among these young girls that they can only get pregnant while menstruating. Only 50 percent of girls say that they openly discuss menstruation at home. Another reason girls miss school is that only 32 percent of rural schools have facilities where girls can change the products for the period during the day.
  3. Free sanitary products for girls in Kenya are appearing. 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. Though only $5 million in the budget has been allocated for this purpose, it offers hope to continued changes that will keep girls in school.
  4. Some local charities have designed locally sourced, reusable, and affordable pads. On the coast of Kenya, one charity, Tunaweza, worked hard to provide period products to women. Using local materials like kitenge and flannel, Tunaweza brought sanitary products to many girls in rural schools. Additionally, when the charity connected with girls, it also used that opportunity to teach them about puberty, hygiene, and gender-based violence.
  5. Raise the Roof Kenya, started by British Holly Bantleman in U.K., works on the ground to fight against the effects of period poverty in Kenya. Started in 2012, the organization has supported 150 youths to employment and provided over 45,000 women with the management of menstrual hygiene. Now, they are seeking to expand and build a center that can employ women to make sustainable pads for the community.

Kenya has seen a great change in the position of women since their new constitution in 2010 that provided great gender equality. Attitudes have begun changing and women’s rights marches have seen greater prominence. In the future, hopefully, this improvement will lessen the shame surrounding menstruation so that the country can truly combat the adverse effects of period poverty in Kenya.

– Grace Gay
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare startup Saathi is on a mission — to empower Indian women through increased access to sanitary pads. Saathi’s unique approach involves recycling discarded banana fibers into a biodegradable and compostable form of feminine hygiene.

Founded in 2015 by MIT graduate Kristin Kagetsu, Saathi addresses the unfortunate reality that only 16 percent of Indian women use sanitary pads during menstruation. Sanitary pads and other feminine hygiene products like tampons and menstrual cups are out of reach for most Indian women because of the cost.

As an alternative, Indian women will either use rags, sawdust, leaves or ashes for feminine hygiene. Unfortunately, these practices can negatively impact cleanliness and, in turn, adversely affect productivity. A 2011 Nielsen study discovered that an alarming 30 percent of girls in northern India dropped out of school once they started menstruating.

Saathi plans to address the cost issue by partnering with NGOs to sell the pads at discounted rates in rural areas and urban slums.

Sustainable Supply Chain

Saathi’s unique approach doesn’t just benefit women, though. The company supports sustainability and local agriculture by purchasing its banana fibers from local farmers. Thrown away before Saathi stepped in, the banana fibers now have a second life after the fruit is harvested. “We realized our strength and uniqueness was in the banana fiber itself. In Gujarat, the plant ends up getting tossed aside on the road,” Kagetsu said.

Kagetsu also acknowledged the importance of their supply chain approach: “Most other pad companies like to think about women as the beneficiaries. That is there, but the greater impact we have is on our supply chain. You can think of it as fair trade and ethical sourcing.”

Sustainability continues on the production floor. Saathi uses a chemical and plastic-free process, and all manufacturing waste is either sold or recycled. Even after the pads are used, the waste products can be recycled as compost feed or used to power biogas systems.

Women Helping Women

Saathi employs nine local women in its Ahmedabad factory. Once considered low-income, these women now enjoy empowerment. The female-led factory produces approximately 1,300 all-natural pads a day.

According to Saathi’s website, it is steadily growing. In Dec. 2016, they announced plans to hire a design engineer, supply chain engineer, an administrative assistant and a sales and distribution lead.

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr

Women’s HealthAccording to data from Trading Economics, Malawi’s GDP in 2015 totaled $6.57 billion, or 0.01 percent of the global economy. The highest influxes of extremely impoverished Malawians are concentrated in rural areas and face a constant struggle when conceptualizing economic development from agricultural practices.

Established in 1993, the Malawi Children’s Fund has initiated and supported youth in Malawi by developing initiatives that facilitate entrepreneurial, educational and medical facilities. The Green Malata Entrepreneurial Village, one of the fund’s centers for development, provides children with courses in subjects such as renewable energy and information technology, in addition to a tailoring program that manufactures reusable Malawian sanitary pads.

Women and children studying tailoring also construct reusable pads that are then combined into “The School Girl Pack,” consisting of three pads and a pair of underwear, which is then sold for $3.50. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that one in 10 school-aged girls in Africa drop out of school or miss class due to their period. Skills development programs established by the entrepreneurial village are not only providing personal development of individual’s trade abilities but also ensuring a better quality of life for women and children in Malawi.

Access to quality female hygiene products is also vital to beneficial health practices to prevent malfunctions such as leaking, which spreads infection and subsequent sores and rashes. Other organizations such as AFRIpads, locally headquartered in Uganda, distribute sanitary pads to women in dire need of reliable assistance.

The Malawian sanitary pads initiative has also committed to participation in Project 50/50, a trans-regional campaign that aims to facilitate greater political representation of women, as outlined in 2008 Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development. On location, training events are held to empower and educate women to become leaders in local and national government.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Right now, there are more than 800 million women and girls around the world who are menstruating. Many of them, thanks to modern day convinces such as easily accessible feminine products, are able to go about their day as they normally would.

However, girls and women living in poverty do not have this luxury. Thousands of them do not have access to a clean toilet with running water. Most of them are not able to afford menstrual hygiene supplies and some might not even know what is happening to them.

A study in India found that almost 70 percent of girls had never been educated on menstruation and were unaware of what was happening to their body the first time they menstruated.

Seeing as about half of the world’s population menstruates at some point in their life and the inability to effectively manage it has rippling effects, ensuring that girls and women have the proper tools and knowledge to manage their monthly cycle is imperative to allow them to prosper every day of every year.

In many developing countries, primary and secondary school dropout rates are higher for girls when compared to boys. Girls make up over 54 percent of the uneducated population of the world.

In many countries, girls are not culturally or legally allowed to attend school or they are needed to stay home and help generate an income for their families. However, at least a portion of this percentage have dropped out of school due to more subtle, but more easily addressable, reasons.

Girls in developing countries not only have to face intense discrimination in their pursuit of an education but also the fact that, in many poor countries, feminine hygiene products are unavailable or too expensive.

So, girls are left to make due with alternatives such as unsterilized cloths, newspaper, bark, banana leaves and even dung. Most of these alternatives are not only unhygienic and can lead to serious health issues, but are also ineffective.

This leads to many girls staying home from school while they are menstruating, thus causing them to miss nearly an entire month of school every year.

Most sanitary pads that are used during menstruation are made from pine-fiber, which is an expensive material to make and is generally imported from Norway or North America.

An organization in Kenya, ZanaAfrica, which is supported by Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been working to patent a new, inexpensive pad that is made using free agricultural byproducts. It is their hope that these new sanitary pads improve health for girls.

Megan Mukuria and Dr. Lawino Kagumba from the organization are the primary leaders of this effort and they have been experimenting with different formulas and designs on how to manufacture an effective, yet inexpensive sanitary pad for girls living in developing or poor nations.

They are hopeful that by addressing the need for cheaper, yet still effective, feminine hygiene products they can not only decrease health issues resulting from improper menstruation care, but also decrease school dropout rates for young girls.

Brittney Dimond

Sources: UNICEF, Impatient Optimists 1, Impatient Optimists 2
Photo: Pixabay