Education and Resilient Livelihoods: The Key to Menstrual Hygiene

For many years, menstrual hygiene was a neglected topic in Kenya. However, over the past two decades, it has been gaining momentum. ActionAid International Kenya (AAIK) has been at the forefront, offering education and support to women and girls on menstrual hygiene practices and providing safe menstrual products.

Education and a positive attitude towards menstrual hygiene are essential for empowering women in society. Yet, many women and girls face significant barriers to attaining menstrual hygiene, including a lack of information, financial resources to access menstrual products, and societal norms that have made the subject taboo.

Through the Strategic Partnership Agreement II (SPA II) program, AAIK has been working to empower communities in six counties—Turkana, Baringo, Isiolo, Garissa, Kilifi, and Nairobi. The program aims to educate and dismantle retrogressive cultural norms surrounding menstrual hygiene.

A poignant example of attitude change is presented by 62-year-old Kenga Karisa, a single father of three teenage girls. Recently, Karisa was overwhelmed by floods that swept away his house and

Kenga Karisa addresses the audience during a forum on women and girls’ rights, organized by the Kilifi Citizens Forum.

livestock in Magharini Sub-County. Additionally, he felt unprepared to handle his daughters’ menstrual needs, believing it was shameful and against his culture to discuss menstruation with them. He would send them to his sister during holidays for such discussions.

Karisa’s mindset shifted after attending ‘wholesome parenting’ classes conducted by the Kilifi Citizen Forum under the SPA II program. These sessions enlightened parents about their responsibilities, including preventing teenage pregnancies and child marriages.

“The session was an eye-opener. I realized that I had neglected my duties.It is my responsibility as a parent to ensure my daughters are protected and provided for.I am glad my girls are being guided through the program,” Karisa shared.

To address the accessibility of menstrual products, AAIK has supported communities through training and exchange programs to develop resilient livelihoods. Betty Ngowa, a member of the Jilore Reflect Circle in Magharini, Kilifi County, shared how group members, many of whom are widows, single parents, and survivors of gender-based violence, floods, and drought—struggled to afford essentials for their girls.

“Menstruation is a natural process and should not prevent our girls from thriving because they cannot access sanitary products and have to resort to desperate measures to get them,” Ngowa pointed out. Some of the desperate measures included engaging in sex or missing school to do menial jobs to buy menstrual products.

The Jilore Reflect Circle practices agroecology farming as a sustainability program for the girls’ clubs. Empowerment with green skills through organic kitchen gardening and table banking has provided financial literacy and the means to support their daughters’ menstrual hygiene needs. Ngowa noted significant positive changes among the girls in Jilore, including improved self-esteem, attitude towards education, confidence, and body hygiene. The girls’ uninterrupted attendance at school due to proper menstrual hygiene has also boosted their performance.

“It is great to see our 40 girls transition to the next classes without any of them dropping out due to teenage pregnancies. Their resilience has been built, and they can maneuver amidst life’s challenges,” Ngowa noted.

Ngowa, who participated in the budget-making process for Kilifi County, emphasized that hygiene is a human right, and both national and county governments should enshrine it in their laws and policies. She concluded by stating:

“It was encouraging that the County Government of Kilifi had finally agreed to set aside KSh10 million for the next financial year (2024/2025) to procure sanitary towels for girls in Kilifi. This initiative will complement what the SPA II program is doing and reach out to more girls.”

Authors: Mercy Gichengi, Programme Coordinator Youth and Governance. Mary Consolata Makokha, Communications Officer ActionAid Kenya 

Edited by Ezra Kiriago ,Communications Coordinator ActionAid Kenya.

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