The Hidden Strain: Psychological Stress and Menstrual Health During Emergencies

Disasters bring about significant challenges, including death, injury, destruction, and a profound erosion of dignity. These stressors lead to numerous physical and emotional health issues. This article delves into the specific impact of psychological stress on women’s menstrual health during the catastrophic April and May 2024 floods in Kenya, focusing on the Majengo informal settlements in Nairobi.

In April and early May 2024, Kenya experienced unprecedented cloudbursts, causing severe floods and flash floods. These events led to multiple deaths, widespread destruction, and significant displacement. The Majengo informal settlements were severely affected, with homes submerged and families displaced. Women in these areas faced extreme stress, disrupting their menstrual cycles, and increasing their vulnerability.

Psychological and Physical Impact

The floods inflicted severe distress on women, who suddenly had to secure essential resources like food, shelter, clothing, and menstrual hygiene products for themselves and their families. Zelpher Ingasiah, a Majengo resident, recounted:

“Following the heavy rains in April and May, we experienced floods for the first time in our lives. Many women’s stress levels skyrocketed. Our household items, including food, clothes, dignity packs, and shoes, were submerged or washed away. Structures in the neighborhood crumbled, triggering our menstrual cycles. Some women got their periods earlier than scheduled.”

This urgent need to rebuild their lives left women struggling to allocate funds for menstrual products, essential for health and hygiene. Young girls found it particularly difficult to request these products from parents already strained by the need to provide necessities.

Humanitarian Response

Initial humanitarian efforts primarily focused on evacuation and providing blankets and food. However, ActionAid Kenya and our partner Youth Alive Kenya recognized the critical need for menstrual hygiene products, supplying dignity kits alongside food and non-food items. This support significantly helped preserve women’s dignity and hygiene. Ingasiah expressed her gratitude:

“While other humanitarian responses focused on evacuation, giving out blankets, and some food donations, we are glad that ActionAid Kenya and Youth Alive Kenya provided menstrual hygiene products. This went a long way in helping us observe menstrual hygiene and preserving our dignity.”

Vulnerability of Teenage Mothers

Teenage mothers were among the most affected, facing unique challenges due to their age and financial struggles. These young mothers needed both sanitary pads and diapers for their babies. The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products increased their susceptibility to manipulation and exploitation, potentially leading to higher rates of teen pregnancies and exposure to dangerous situations such as drug abuse and criminal activities. Ingasiah highlighted the importance of including hygiene kits in humanitarian responses to mitigate these risks:

“With humanitarian response providing hygiene kits, this alleviates the dire situation of susceptibility of teenage mothers to manipulation that leads them to fall prey in their quest to acquire safe sanitary alternatives to use during their periods.”


Kenya’s susceptibility to natural disasters like floods, droughts, and landslides underscores the necessity for comprehensive disaster response strategies. These strategies must address both the immediate and long-term needs of affected populations. Providing menstrual hygiene products during emergencies is crucial for maintaining women’s health and dignity, reducing stress, and preventing exploitation.


  • Incorporate Menstrual Hygiene into Disaster Relief: Humanitarian organizations should consistently include menstrual hygiene products in their emergency relief packages.
  • Support for Teenage Mothers: Special attention should be given to the unique needs of teenage mothers, providing both sanitary pads and baby diapers.
  • Community Education: Raise awareness about the importance of menstrual hygiene and the impact of stress on menstrual cycles to better prepare communities for future disasters.
  • Policy Advocacy: Advocate for policies that ensure the inclusion of menstrual hygiene management in national disaster preparedness and response plans.

By addressing these needs, humanitarian efforts can more effectively support the health and dignity of women and girls during emergencies, contributing to their resilience and recovery.

Authors: Victoria Nyokabi, Program Assistant, Youth Alive Kenya. Mary Consolata Makokha, Communications Officer ActionAid Kenya 

Edited by Ezra Kiriago ,Communications Coordinator ActionAid Kenya.

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