Irish charity calls for Kenyan girls to have brighter future

Lack of sanitary products means girls loose out on a week of school per month

by Rose Barrett
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An Irish charity has launched a novel campaign in a bid to help end the stigma around periods that is still deeply ingrained in Kenya. Sadly, many young girls can lose out on a week of school as they just don’t have access to sanitary products. Even worse, it has been reported that many girls living in poverty, will exchange sexual favours for sanitary pads.

Brighter Communities Worldwide, who works in partnership with local communities in East Africa is hoping that people will openly discuss periods under the hashtag #WhatDoYouCallYours.

The Charity, which is marking 20 years working with communities in East Africa, says period poverty accounts for young girls missing out on large parts of their school terms, leading to really serious knock-on effects that impinge on their opportunities into adulthood.

Maria Kidney, Co-Founder of Brighter Communities Worldwide says: “The girls can miss up to one week of school a month, because without sanitary pads and knowledge about menstrual health they are forced to stay at home when they have their periods. Their education is so badly affected as a result, they often drop out of school early. Young girls have so many things to grapple with and period poverty is just one more obstacle in their way.

“Periods are still shrouded in taboo in Kenya; there is a patriarchy around the issue that is still huge, for example the girls don’t have any money of their own, they need to get money from the men in their families in order to even buy sanitary products, so many men still have no knowledge around periods so it is a vicious circle.

“This was exacerbated by Covid-19 as the young girls’ education was interrupted for an entire year which was a major set back. When the schools were closed girls had no access to the education and reusable sanitary kits that are part of our menstrual health programme. It is particularly hard on girls in more rural areas as they find it extremely hard to access sanitary products, as they are restricted by both lack of money and inaccessibility to shops selling the items. They might have to travel long distances on foot, and this proves very difficult for them”.

“Without access to pads they then have to improvise, using old cloths, blankets, sometimes even leaves to make sanitary pads; they sit on cardboard to absorb the flow, they listen to myths about menstruation and often they are enticed into sex for money  so that they can purchase pads. It results in school dropouts, teenage pregnancies and the stigma attached to menstruation contributes to mental health issue. On a macro level it means that girls do not have the same opportunities as boys and as such, the entire society suffers”.

“We are determined that our campaign for International Menstrual Hygiene Day on the 28th May will make an impact”.

We have all used euphemisms for our periods. We called them ‘things’ ‘my things’ ‘my you know’, ‘Aunty Jane’, ‘monthlies’ ‘my visitor’ for instance and what is interesting is that some young girls in Ireland are still reticent to call periods, periods! However, thankfully in Ireland girls in the main have easy access to sanitary products, in East Kenya they don’t. The girls in both countries are the same, they all have the same dreams and hopes but they have vastly differing opportunities”.

“When young girls in Kenya miss out on school the ramifications are really very serious as they fall behind in their education and this impacts on their ability to work, make some money and progress”.

“We want to end the stigma, break the taboos, raise awareness as we get people talking openly about periods and raise funds to try and help young girls struggling with period poverty in Kenya. It costs just €5 to provide one girl with a sanitary kit containing underwear, soap and reusable sanitary pads and girls are taught how to and girls add to the kit by making their own pads”.

“We are asking the people of Dublin to get behind our campaign, use the hashtag #WhatDoYouCallYours, get talking and get periods spoken about, openly, in a healthy and frank way”.

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