Covid 19 & Menstrual Hygiene in East Africa

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This blog article is a cooperation between TryBe, Unsaid and My Voice Organization. If you would like more about Unsaid, check out our last blog posts on Ecofeminism and Woodstoves and their blog as well. Keep on reading to find out more about My Voice Organization!

Covid 19 has been the topic of discussion since it came up in the beginning of 2020. It has had a major impact on economies from developing to developed countries. We have heard about closing shops and restaurants, collapsing hospitals and of some people even losing their jobs. This crisis has affected the lives of so many – but there is one story that remains largely untold.

Around the world girls and women with a lack of financial resources share a common problem: the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products. This issue existed long before the spread of Covid-19 but it has turned out to be even more pressing due to the pandemic especially for girls and women from impoverished urban and rural areas.

According to data published by Performance Monitoring and Accountability (PMA) in 2020, only 46 percent of girls and women in Kenya are able to practice menstrual hygiene management with access to proper menstrual products. This raises the question: what about the other 54 percent? Over half of Kenyan women do not have the resources to afford menstrual products. Imagine yourself without pads or tampons during period. Can you even imagine what you would do if you had no menstrual hygiene products?

The most commonly used sanitary product used among Kenyan women are menstrual pads, whereas many who can’t afford them use old cloth to help themselves out. This is both ineffective and uncomfortable, but overall it can be unhygienic, puts the health of women in danger and promotes diseases and infections.

An additional problem is that there are no public spots available for changing sanitary products. Most schools don’t provide appropriate sanitation facilities for menstrual hygiene. Therefore, 63 percent of women and girls mainly rely on household facilities. FSG ‘Menstrual Health Landscape in Kenya’ (2016) reported that only 32% of rural schools have a private place for girls to change their menstrual products. This leads to uncomfortable situations for girls attending school such as leaking products in class. Consequently, many girls miss school during their menstruation, causing them difficulties to follow their lessons. It is reported that 4 out of 10 girls miss 12 days of school each term given that they experience periods 4 days a month, which affects their overall performance in school. This structural disadvantage results in school drop-outs, unequal education and less job opportunities for women. In Uganda a similar study found a quarter of school girls did not go to class at least two times in one term because of menstruation, with girls from poorer households being more affected (MoH Uganda, 2016).

Girls in East Africa experience stigmatization due to menstruation. Cases have been reported of young girls who have even taken their lives as a result of being period shamed, the latest being a young Kenyan girl who committed suicide after experiencing stigma on her menstruation by a teacher in school.

The Government of Kenya has shown some commitment towards menstrual health management over recent years, with the National Sanitary Towels Campaign Coordinating Committee being established in 2008. This body works to standardize the methodology for national pad distribution and coordination, research to access its impacts under the Ministry of Education and the Girl Child Network. It also sees the removal of import duties and VAT on MHM products in 2011 (UNICEF, 2017).

The Basic Education (Amendment) Act of 2017 came into force requiring that the government provide free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl registered and enrolled in a public basic education institution who has reached puberty. Since then, the government allocated money KES. 470 million to the programme in the Financial Year 2017/18. It is not clear how much was allocated for the programme in the 2019/2020 budget. Nonetheless, these efforts are merely a drop in the ocean, as many continue without help from national institutions.

With closure of educational institutions, girls who depend on sanitary towels distributed in schools now remain unassured of adequate menstruation management. Loss of jobs and other income earning avenues that have resulted from the pandemic have worsened the situation for caregivers who are no longer able to afford a simple meal for the family, even less purchasing sanitary towels for girls. As a result, many cases of young girls turning to sexual favors to be able to acquire sanitary towels have been reported. This puts them to great health risks such as HIV/AIDs among other STDs and causes early pregnancies, which in turn again lead to school drop-outs and other disadvantages for those girls.

The above is a clear indication that more needs to be done to ensure accessibility and proper menstrual health management of young girls and women not only in Kenya and Uganda, but in East Africa and the whole world.

TryBe is cooperating with My Voice Organization, which is a community-based organization that seeks to empower women all around towards achieving the SDGs mainly on women empowerment and environmental protection. In view of this, the organization is currently working to ensure that marginalized young girls and women have access to proper menstrual management by making reusable sanitary towels which are sustainable and eco-friendly. This will go a long way in helping them manage their periods due to their re-usability aspect and in the reduction of single-use plastic which is the normal sanitary towel. This will also provide women without the financial resources to afford single-use pads with a sustainable solution for their menstruation. Moreover, they provide training to women on how they can make and sell the reusable pads, which will be an income earner and support poverty reduction.

We are currently conducting interviews with young girls in Uganda to ask them about their menstruation. On Instagram we already posted one of them. Click on this link to see the video. The girls’ answers are truly astonishing.

If you would like to support our cooperation, enter into contact with us to donate or get further information!