As Kenya joins the rest of the world in celebrating menstrual hygiene this month, girls in Tana River County continue to live in anguish due to lack of sanitary towels which is brought about by the high level of poverty.
Born and bred in abject poverty where affording sanitary towels is a luxury, some of the girls have resorted to using more traditional methods to overcome the cycle.
While some use rags in place of sanitary towels, others dig holes in the bushes where they sit for hours whenever they feel the cycle is approaching.
Sumeya Ado, a 19-year-old ambassador for menstrual hygiene in the community told The Standard of the sufferings the girls from pastoral communities go through.
Sumeya and many other ladies went through high school at Mau Mau Memorial Girls the hard way.
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For her, many mistook her beauty for riches; but only a few knew she had strands of bedsheets for use in the absence of sanitary towels
She pleaded for distribution of sanitary towels to all the adolescent girls in the county to save them from the shame.
Zuhura (not her real name), 15, said using sanitary wear during the menstrual cycle is a luxury she cannot afford.
“Why should I not go ahead and dig a hole instead of purchasing a sanitary towel at Sh 70? My family lives in poverty and I cannot stress them over such issues,” she said.
She explains that she used to get free sanitary pads while at school, however, the same could not happen since the schools were closed due to Covid-19.
Yearly, more than 370 girls and women are treated for fungal or bacterial infections.
Tana River’s reproductive health officer, Hawa Abdighafoor, said the girls are not educated on menstrual hygiene due to cultural effects.
“It is a taboo for a mother or any other female to sit down with girls and talk about menstrual hygiene or sexual education to the adolescent,” she said.
The county’s Chief Health Officer Erick Wesonga said the devolved unit has formed health clubs both primary and secondary schools pupils and students are sensitised on menstrual hygiene and sharing their experiences.
"During our interactions we have realised many girls opt to stay home due to menstruation cycle. We have come up with intersections to keep our girls in school by giving them sanitary towels,” he said
He further added that they conduct outreaches where health workers go to sensitise the adolescent girls on their sexuality.
International Centre for Reproductive Health Country Director Dr Griffins Manguro said such an act makes girls miss classes and other vital activities in the community.
“This can also drive teenagers to early marriages and sexual exploitation with an urge to fight the economic difficulty,” he said.
Dr Griffins further added that the act of sitting on holes is not hygienic and leads to toxicity.
“The act of using sanitary ware for a long period of time can make someone get infections and this further interferes with their dignity and self-esteem,” he added.
The Dr further added that due to loss of self-esteem, the women might have negativity in their womanhood in future and also end up to become vulnerable to sexual violence.
The Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is celebrated every May 28 globally, the day provides a platform that brings together non-profits, government agencies, the private sector, the media and individuals to promote Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). Menstrual Hygiene Day will help to break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.