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Period Poverty in Kenya
For many young girls in Kenya, properly managing a menstrual cycle with adequate sanitary products is a luxury. Roughly one million Kenyan girls miss out on education each month because they are unable to afford menstrual products. Girls and women are unable to work or participate in education for days at a time, placing them at a disadvantage in comparison to their male peers. Some girls even resort to sharing menstrual products in a desperate attempt to find a solution to period poverty in Kenya. Though access to menstrual products is a multi-faceted issue in Kenya, activists are making it possible for girls to properly manage their periods and continue with life as usual.

Period Poverty in Kenya

Research shows that 65% of Kenyan women and girls are unable to afford basic sanitary pads. As a consequence, girls often rely on the men in their lives for period products and some girls engage in transactional sex in order to secure sanitary products, perpetuating a patriarchal cycle of reliance and exploitation.

Milcah Hadida

Menstrual hygiene ambassador Milcah Hadida is combating period poverty in an innovative way. Hadida collects sanitary products from donors and delivers the products to vulnerable girls in Kenya via bicycle. Through her efforts, she has reached 2,300 girls in just five months.

For her mobilization against period poverty in Kenya’s Tana River County, Hadida recently received the prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal. This award “recognizes exemplary service in the areas of public health and nursing education.” In addition to delivering period products to girls in rural Kenya, she has also called on the health administration of the county to develop policies to address period poverty.

Megan White Mukuria

Megan White Mukuria is the founder of ZanaAfrica, a social enterprise founded in 2007 with its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. ZanaAfrica combats period poverty through a hybrid model of feminine products and education. ZanaAfrica manufactures and distributes high-quality, low-cost menstrual products through the Kenyan marketplace. The enterprise couples the distribution of sanitary products with sexual and reproductive health education.

Through this combination, Mukuria and her team build a safe ecosystem where girls can navigate their adolescence in a safe and healthy manner. They also frame the period products through an aspirational lens, “creating safe spaces to learn about health and reclaim dignity.” Since 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has supported ZanaAfrica with several grants. Between 2013 and 2018, ZanaAfrica impacted almost 50,000 girls in Kenya.

Emmie Erondanga

Emmie Erondanga is the director of Miss Koch Kenya (MKK) women’s advocacy NGO, founded in 2001 with the aim of addressing the vulnerability of young girls in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, Kenya. MKK intervenes against socio-economic issues that contribute to the disempowerment of young women in Kenya and provides free pads to girls in slums, when possible.

MKK’s work has been increasingly relevant with the impacts of COVID-19 as thousands of girls struggle to access sanitary products in lockdown. Because government pads are only accessible at school, Erondanga’s mobilization has helped fill gaps in the Kenyan government-funded sanitary towel program. Erondanga has been instrumental in advocating for reproductive health education in Kenya, aiming to reduce the stigma around periods and puberty.

When girls and women have adequate access to menstrual products, they are able to continue with their school and work endeavors. Overall, a world without period poverty means girls and women can contribute to economic growth in a more significant way, thus reducing global poverty.

– Alysha Mohamed
Photo: Flickr

Girls in Africa
Puberty is a difficult time of life for many adolescent girls worldwide. During puberty, girls may face numerous challenges such as abuse, sexual harassment, unplanned pregnancy and early marriage, all of which pose a threat to their health and psychological well-being. When girls lack the knowledge and tools to navigate puberty safely, these challenges become even more difficult. For girls in Africa, this time can be particularly challenging. However, ZanaAfrica Foundation is an NGO in Kenya helping to provide girls with health education as well as menstrual supplies to help them navigate their periods and stay in school.

Menstruation Myths

Misconceptions about menstruation are common in many communities around the world. In these areas, many consider being female and having a period as shameful and suspicious. A girl’s first period is often a miserable time because of stigma in the local society. At least 50% of adolescent girls in Ethiopia do not receive any information about menstruation before their first periods. The belief is that when girls begin menstruating, they are no longer virgins. At times, some parents punish girls because they believe their periods began as a result of their daughters having sex. The Asembo in Kenya believe that a daughter who is menstruating should not sleep in her mother’s home because the young person is unclean. Myths such as this can make girls in Africa feel unaccepted by their mothers and their communities.

In East Africa, 80% of all girls have no access to health education or sanitary pads. Meanwhile, in Kenya, two out of three girls are unable to access menstrual products regularly. Many girls use homemade cloths or rags, but these solutions can lead to infection, and often they are not very effective. Due to shame and fear, many girls do not attend school when menstruating. In seventh grade, the proportion of girls dropping out of school is 7.1% in comparison to boys at 6.8%. In eighth grade, the dropout gap widens by 0.7%.

Obtaining an education is key to avoiding the grind of poverty, so the girls can get jobs upon graduation. Missing school because of menstruation leads to girls not graduating, thereby consigning girls in Africa to a lifetime of lower-paying work or worse, no paying work. A 2015 study in Kenya revealed that one out of 10 girls engaged in transactional sex in order to obtain menstrual pads.

ZanaAfrica

ZanaAfrica is a nonprofit based in Kenya that focuses on girls’ education and healthcare. The organization works to disseminate information and menstrual products, to keep young women from dropping out of school and thereby avoid eventual poverty. ZanaAfrica’s research shows that healthcare information and menstrual pads win back 75% of learning days at school.

ZanaAfrica leads a global advocacy effort to break the taboo around menstrual periods. Deeply engrained taboos, as well as the lack of communal rites-of-passage that once supported girls during adolescence, leave girls to navigate puberty on their own. Young girls can enter situations in which they receive pressure to have sex or another person touches them inappropriately, but they do not realize that they have the right to say no. As a result, 20% of Kenyan girls ages 15-19 are pregnant, 60% quit before finishing high school and 66% of new HIV infections are in adolescent girls in Africa.

The Publication, “Nia Teen”

To help counter the rising tide of unwanted pregnancy, disease and leaving school, which creates a vicious cycle of poverty, ZanaAfrica publishes a health magazine called “Nia Teen.” Its goal is to improve the health and agency of girls living in the worst informational and economic poverty. The organization has also created a 24-session facilitated health education curriculum.

“Nia Teen” draws from a database of more than 10,000 questions from 1,000 girls. Each issue intends to create behavior change as well as knowledge retention. The publication gives guidance, affirmation and information about menstrual health and puberty. It also celebrates real girls’ accomplishments and features their heroes. A comic in the magazine demonstrates healthy decision-making and comes with a discussion guide. ZanaAfrica believes that when girls receive honest answers to their questions, they gain the confidence to realize their potential and affirmation of their voices. When girls learn about reproductive health, they are better able to make decisions and are more likely to make positive choices for their future.

ZanaAfrica’s Impact

Over the past four years, ZanaAfrica has worked with partners across Kenya to provide over 10,000 girls per year with cotton underwear and sanitary pads, as well as reproductive health education. Since 2013, it has impacted nearly 50,000 girls with the tools they need to thrive. In 2015, ZanaAfrica received a $2.9 million four-year research grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to test the impact of its health education interventions and menstrual pads on health, safety and education for girls in Africa.

COVID-19’s Impact on Girls in Kenya

With Kenyan schools closed until 2021 due to COVID-19, millions of girls are dealing with challenges that the pandemic has worsened. Girls who are not in school are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, pregnancy, sexual violence and ongoing trauma. Support for groups like ZanaAfrica is more crucial than ever since COVID-19 has made it even more difficult for girls in Africa to stay safe.

– Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Health in East AfricaMenstrual health products are fairly expensive across the globe. Safe measures of menstrual health in East Africa are difficult to come by since many women cannot afford to purchase feminine hygiene products, which often cost approximately half of their daily pay. ZanaAfrica is working to combat this injustice by providing sanitary pads and education regarding menstrual health.

The Problem with Menstrual Health in East Africa

Due to the exorbitant cost of menstrual health products, girls in Africa often have to resort to using potentially unsafe means of coping with menstruation. Some young women use cloths and rags to deal with menstruation, but they also use unconventional approaches such as twigs, mattress stuffing and even mud. These practices founded out of necessity can have detrimental impacts on the health of adolescent girls. Infections and diseases can result from these measures.

Additionally, female students are likely to miss school as a result of menstruation. Due to stigma, lack of hygiene products and harassment, many girls are unable to attend school during menstruation and miss up to 20 percent of school days as a result. Another aspect affecting adolescent girls is the pain and discomfort associated with menstruation.

Sexual and reproductive health education is lacking in Kenya. In an interview on March 25, 2019, Linda Curran, the Senior Communications & Development Consultant at ZanaAfrica, told The Borgen Project, “Their lack of access to SRHR educational resources exacerbated by the negative external pressures they face leaves girls susceptible to inaccurate information and unsafe influences that often hold deep and lasting negative implications for their sense of voice and agency, their confidence and self-determination, their sexual activity and health, and their education.”

In Kenya, 50 percent of girls cannot openly discuss menstruation at home. Additionally, 68 percent of schools do not have a private area for adolescent girls to address their hygiene needs.

An Organization Helping Improve Menstrual Health in East Africa

Based in Washington D.C., ZanaAfrica is a nonprofit organization that provides sanitary pads and menstrual health education to girls in Kenya. Its efforts in Kenya center around the town of Kilifi, along the East African coast. Kilifi was home to 1.2 million residents as of 2012. Since then, its population has grown.

A large portion of the population in Kilifi, 47 percent, is under the age of 15. In addition, compared to the national average, fewer students enter secondary school. Kilifi also has staggering numbers of violations of women’s rights, including high incidences of teen pregnancy, child marriage and sexual predation. In Kenya, 527,000 girls are child brides. The work of ZanaAfrica in Kilifi is pivotal in providing positive changes for the adolescent girls of Kilifi.

Supplementing sanitary pads, ZanaAfrica also has a publication aimed at educating girls about their changing bodies, Nia Teen. This magazine has a rights-based focus and ZanaAfrica distributes it alongside its health education program, Nia Yetu.

ZanaAfrica is truly making a difference in Kilifi with programs educating nearly 4,000 girls regarding their sexual and reproductive health. Also, the organization distributed 35,600 sanitary pads to the girls of the region. With Nia Yetu, ZanaAfrica is extending its reach by working with World Vision and The Kenyan Ministry of Health to provide sexual and reproductive health education in 40 schools that will reach a total of 1,600 girls.

ZanaAfrica accepts donations to further its mission of providing adolescent girls with access to sanitary products and eliminating the taboo surrounding menstruation. While ZanaAfrica only sells its sanitary pads in Kenya, the organization’s brand partner, Cora, is available in the United States. A portion of each purchase helps support the work of ZanaAfrica in Kenya.

– Carolyn Newsome
Photo: Google

women's health, organizations
In a continent whose culture puts a lot of pressure on a woman’s ability to reproduce, there is little knowledge shared within the African community on women’s reproductive health. Women make up half of Africa’s total population, with 56.4 percent of the female population between the ages of 15 and 64.

Gender Inequalities in Africa

In Africa, there is taboo surrounding a woman’s menstruation that has caused inequality among the sexes as well as serious health issues. In African culture, girls are raised with the notion that menstruation is something to be ashamed of and must keep these issues to themselves if they are even told what to expect.

Education about reproduction is scarce and most women lack the proper feminine hygiene supplies to facilitate their body’s needs. The cost of feminine sanitary items is exorbitantly high leading many to use other inefficient and dangerous methods to catch the flow of blood.

Many African girls face ridicule by the opposite sex while others suffer a strain on their self-esteem because of their body’s natural biology. In some parts of Africa, women are separated from the rest of the community and forbidden to participate in everyday activities until their monthly periods have ceased.

The gap in gender inequality is widened further when girls have to miss several days of school a month due to insufficient feminine resources.

With the acknowledgment that something must be done to repair the stigma surrounding menstrual periods in third world countries, especially the ones that are located in Africa, many organizations are leading the charge for change.

While providing cost-effective alternatives to sanitary napkins, most of these organizations are uplifting the female population with one of the most invaluable resources of all— education. Some of these women’s health organizations in Africa are described below.

5 Women’s Health Organizations in Africa

  1. One of the 5 women’s health organizations making an impact in Africa is AFRIpads, organization that categorizes itself as a social enterprise that produces and supplies cost-effective reusable sanitary pads. This Africa-based organization is aiming to reduce environmental stressors by cutting down on the amount of waste that one-use sanitation pads cause. As a company that employs mostly females, AFRIpads is destroying the social stigma surrounding menstruation by encouraging women in Africa to own up to their femininity one pad at a time.
  2. Ruby Cup is another organization that is offering a safe alternative to using rags as a sanitation device. This organization is providing reusable menstrual cups to girls in need through their “Buy 1, Give 1” initiative. In addition to securing an alternative means of female sanitation, the organization is also sending members out to educate girls about their female and reproductive health.
  3. Days for Girls is a powerful nonprofit organization that is improving far more than girl’s health. This organization’s aim is to change the attitudes about beauty and confidence. A coalition of volunteers sews brightly colored bags filled with supplies making their intended recipients feel extra special when they receive them. Days for Girls’ outreach efforts have improved the lives of more than a million girls and they are giving opportunities to those who had none before.
  4. ZanaAfrica is taking a direct approach to ending the inequality within girls education in Africa. Some girls in Africa miss school or they are forced to drop out because they are forced to miss some classes because of their periods, but ZanaAfrica is distributing sanitation materials along with a healthy dose of innovative educational resources. ZanaAfrica’s efforts have been met with the creation of days for awareness as well as working closely with government officials on female life-changing sanitation policies.
  5. Femme International is an organization that is promoting female empowerment among adolescent girls in Africa. They are not only contributing sustainable and long-term methods of menstrual protection but are also putting a heavy emphasis on the hygienic aspect of woman’s health. Included in their period kits is a bar of soap, a container for the soap, a towel and a bowl to boil water to sanitize the reusable menstrual cup included with the kit.

These five woman’s health organization in Africa described above have prevented girls from becoming sex workers in order to pay for their monthly sanitation needs. This has cut down the number of women contracting HIV/AIDS. They have also managed to save many girls from diseases related to improper sanitation and encouraged young girls to stay in school with their efforts.

In supplying girls in Africa with sanitation materials and information about their reproductive health, many of these organizations have raised awareness of the issue prompting change. Girls in third world countries in Africa affected by these organizations have undergone a transformation that has changed their whole outlook on life. Most important of all, these organizations have opened up a line of communication when it comes to talking about female reproductive health and periods.

– Catherine Wilson
Photo: Flickr

11. Improving Girls' Education with Menstrual ProductsIn 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

Photo: Flickr