How girls from poor families grapple with menstruation

Immaculate has to make do with dry cow dung every time she has her period.

One Saturday five years ago will remain etched in her memory.

The 15-year-old had just arrived home from school, when her mother noticed blood stains on her uniform.

On this day, she had her period for the first time.

Menstruation was yet another burden on the girl, who was leading a hard life. Her family lived hand-to-mouth.

Immaculate’s mother, in an attempt to avoid “embarrassment” in case her father noticed the stains, gave her a leso.

A matter such as menstruation is rarely talked about in public, more so in Kenya’s conservative society.

Immaculate was lucky to have her mother assist and guide her on what to do, but for Delvine it was a different story.

She was left guessing on what to use since she had never heard of a sanitary pad.

Delvine had no one to help her understand the changes in her body. Her mother had died when she was young.

She used small pieces of cotton cloth she picked up from a tailor’s home next door. However, at times, the blood would seep through.

Delvine, a Class Six pupil in West Pokot County, resorted to staying indoors every month during her period.

“I could not stand the humiliation when my fellow pupils first saw blood on my uniform. Being a mixed school, the boys made fun of me,” Delvine said.

In Immaculate’s case, she would use dried cow dung and pieces of cloth as sanitary pads whenever she had her periods.

The cow dung is made into a flat shape, then dried. She dries many pieces that can take her for three consecutive months.

“I place the dung in my inner pant and pieces of cloth on top. If the blood penetrates the cloth, it is absorbed by the dung,” she said. “The cow dung acts as a sponge.”

When she returned from school, she would wash the pieces of cloth before reusing them.

The two are representative of thousands of girls in Kenya who still lack access to hygienic sanitary materials.

In a county such as West Pokot, many families cannot afford the cost of proper sanitary pads.

On average, a woman has her periods for three to seven days a month.

Women start menstruating from the age of 13. That means an average woman endures 456 periods over 38 years.

Experts recommend that one changes pads every four to eight hours.

A box containing eight pads costs about Sh80 at any supermarket in the country.

If a girl changes a pad every six hours, she will require four per day. In five days, she will need a total of 20 pads.

President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a law requiring the government to provide sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl enrolled in a public basic education institution who has reached puberty, for free.

The Basic Education (Amendment) Act, 2017, further says the government will provide a safe and environmentally sound mechanism for disposal of the sanitary towels.

The programme was later moved from the Education ministry to the Public Service, Youth and Gender ministry.

Many people do not understand why the shift was made.

Public Service, Youth and Gender Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said the ministry will work with county governments to ensure the girls are provided with the sanitary pads.

In the 2017/2018 financial year, Kenya budgeted Sh500 million for the sanitary towels, a significant increase from the previous year’s budget that stood at Sh400 million.

According to the education calendar, the girls were given their sanitary towels between January and April.

They are given supplies enough to last them nine months.

This is done at the beginning of the school calendar.

As far as the government is concerned, towels for the 2016/2017 financial year were supplied.

Most of the counties, including Kisumu, have not allocated any funds for the towels.

Kisumu Deputy Governor Mathew Owili told the Nation that the regional government will look into the matter and spare some money for the needy girls.


Ms Lydiah Njoroge, a programme manager at Health Education Africa Resource Team, said there is a huge need for sanitary pads.

She added that the number of girls missing school due to lack of pads is high.

“The gap is huge. Girls are suffering. Every day a girl starts to menstruate and she is not on the list of those who are given free sanitary pads, what happens to her?” she asked.

“Our programme is different from the government’s. We give a year’s supply of towels unlike the government that caters for nine months. We also give four panties and a health education booklet for puberty education,” Ms Njoroge said.

The girls are covered even when they are on holiday.

According to a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research, the average woman who menstruates will use up to 17,000 sanitary pads in her lifetime.

A box containing eight pads costs about Sh80 at any supermarket in the country.

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