Homeless women's pain during menstrual period

Linda Mbeyu of Pathfinder helps Janet Salama unpack her sanitary towel gift bag during M-PESA Foundation’s sanitary towels distribution at Kibaoni Primary School in Kilifi County. [Courtesy]

At only 19, the rough and tumble of street life has somewhat toughened Ann Koi. But one simple gesture would sear through that tough exterior to expose the challenge Koi and many other homeless women grapple with each month.

When a group of models handed Koi a packet of sanitary towels, she burst into tears, taking aback those that had given it to her.

The models were out to mark World Menstrual Hygiene Day, held on May 28 every year, and had pooled together their resources to make life a little more bearable for other women. Their efforts gathered five cartons of sanitary towels that they handed out at Jeevanjee Gardens in Nairobi.

This is an annual awareness day to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management at a global level. It was initiated in 2013 and first observed in 2014.

"It's quite heart wrenching to present somebody with a packet of pads, and they break down in tears," said Lydia Njoki, CEO of Nurture Talent Modelling agency, who accompanied the models.

Without access to clean and sufficient water, leave alone proper undergarments and sanitary products, each month presents challenges to many women like Koi in observing hygiene.

"When women cannot access basic sanitary products every month, it significantly impacts their hygiene, health, and wellbeing," said Njoki.

As the models handed out the pads, a young man, carrying a sack approaches them.

His name is Alex, a resident of Mathare, where he lives with his girlfriend and newborn child.

The 26-year-old asks for a packet of sanitary towels for his girlfriend. Alex's sack contains plastics, which he collects to sell for recycling, and money is not always guaranteed at the end of the day.

"If you have little to no money to feed your family, will you have enough to wipe your backside?" He posed.   

In keeping with the theme of this year's Menstrual Hygiene Day; "To create a world where no woman or girl is held back because they menstruate by 2030," several NGOs gathered in Kibera on Saturday to highlight the challenges women go through and share recommendations against stigma and shame.

The NGOs included CREAW, Inua Dada Foundation, Kibera Unite Against Crime, and MAD sisters.

At the event, speakers called for local and international organisations, national and county governments, and the community to facilitate menstrual health management. 

"Girls and women need adequate and relevant knowledge and information on menstrual health management, access to quality sanitary towels and basics like undergarments and access to clean water," said Janet Mbugua, founder of Inua Dada.

Under the national affirmative action, the national government is mandated to distribute free sanitary towels nationwide to adolescent girls enrolled at public schools.

But, according to the organisations, the sanitary towels and dignity kitties do not reach women at the grassroots.

As a result, girls and women are forced to access them through unsafe ways, such as transactional sexual activities, intergenerational partners, hard labour, or staying out of work and school, which affects their productivity and income.