On Friday September 6, 14 year-old Jackline Chepngeno, a Standard Six pupil of Kapiangek Primary School in Bomet County took the ultimate step, ending her life. Little Jackline hanged herself by her lesso near a local river undergoing what must have been unparalleled shame and pain.
Earlier that day, this innocent girl had gone to school, where nature had taken its normal course during lesson 3. She started on her periods as all girls are won’t do around that age. Her teacher, shockingly a fellow woman, ridiculed her for being “dirty” and “careless” and is said to have kicked her and sent her out of class. The girl went home, reported to her mother, headed to the river to fetch water and committed suicide.
I tell this saddest of stories to give a human face to an issue on which I have filled these pages on numerous occasions until in 2017. That year, I joined others in celebrating the passage of the Basic Education Act and adoption of a government policy which decreed that all adolescent girls would now be provided with sanitary pads free of charge. How is it that two years down the road, Jackline can die, firstly, because she had not been enlightened on this most basic of human occurrences and secondly, that in Bomet County, there are no free pads available for her and other poor girls use? I would be willing to bet that Jackline is just one of the hundreds of thousands of girls going through the shame and humiliation of managing their menses with zero or minimal awareness and without the availability of sanitary pads.
My basic research on the issue discloses that there have been bureaucratic challenges in ensuring that the law and government policy on the free pads issue is implemented. The funds allocated are insufficient. The ministry that was allocated the funds to carry out the programme has no infrastructure to effectively implement it. There have been procurement challenges that have led to a ping-pong game on the issue and allegations of underhand dealings by some big boys in the ministries. What shocks me is that this is occurring at a time that we are celebrating the gains of women in the public sector. The ministry initially allocated the funds for the programme is headed by an eminent woman. The Chief Administration Secretary in that ministry is a woman. While the Principal Secretary for Basic education is a man, the Chief Administrative Secretary in the overall Ministry of Education is a woman. I do not wish to make this a woman’s issue but to my mind, one of the reason why we insist on gender inclusion in government is because there are certain matters which require a woman’s unique perspective to be given priority in this government. None of this is more obvious than the issue of sanitary pads.
In a shockingly traditional society, most men, especially the lot in leadership, have not the slightest appreciation of the prejudicial impact that this issue has on the lives of young girls. Until women numbers increased in Parliament, this matter used to be laughed out of the House if ever introduced. It therefore shocks me that despite a change in policy, none of these our eminent women leaders, including those in Parliament, placed sufficient pressure on government to move beyond policy to implementation. In that same season, we have procured all manner of products including many through innovative procurement methods. What bewitched us that this issue belongs to the back burner?
After 2017, I believed I would never have to discuss this matter on a national platform. The travesty of having hundreds of thousands of girls missing a week of school every month because they could not afford pads and the underwear that they need to manage this most natural of female occurrences. What society are we that a girl should commit suicide because she cannot face a world that has condemned her purely for being female? Shame on us.
Can little Chepngeno’s death move us beyond platitudes and hypocritical anger into ensuring “Never Again”?