Young adolescent girls in arid and rural areas have continued to struggle to stay in school through their menstrual period due to a lack of sanitary pads.
In the African culture, the topic of menstruation is always a subject mostly shied away from by the communities. Men and boys have been left behind in understanding the subject and have not therefore been able to offer support.
In places such as Bamba, Kilifi County, it is against tradition for a girl to ask her father for sanitary pads because it is a shame and taboo. Wives are not allowed to either talk about such issues to their husbands.
However, one volunteer, Mohamed Rafik, has come up with reusable pads that can last up to four years. He is on a mission to provide the pads to the girls in arid and neglected regions.
Rafik says in Mandera, Garissa, Tana River and Bamba, the girls use some extremely unhygienic ways during their menstrual cycle, including using cow dung, pieces of mattresses, and old t-shirts.
“For over 100 years, girls have been struggling with menstrual hygiene. In a research made in 2017, we found that some of the girls in these regions are using cow dung, mattresses, bedsheets and school t-shirts to contain their periods,” says Rafik.
Rafik, who is the founder of Orphan Aid and Coordinator of Mission Relief Africa, says the pads will help the girls in these regions be able to continue with school.
“We are targeting girls in rural areas having already distributed the pads to Garissa, Mandera, Tana River, Kilifiu, Bamba area and Mombasa,” says Rafik.
He says in Bamba, the girls are forced to look for alternative ways to get the pads. Some end up sleeping with people in exchange for their support. Many have ended up pregnant.
“It is either the wife saves but the daily earning of one person is about Sh60 to Sh150 which cannot afford much. So they sleep with the bodaboda riders to get the money to buy pads,” says Rafik.
He says that in places like Mandera and Garissa, the girls dig holes where they sit for almost three to four hours a day for two or three days to speed up menstruation.
“So normal menstruation usually takes place between five to seven days but they do it in three or four days because of the heat. So that messes with the menstrual hygiene,” says Rafik.
He says the pads have eight inner layers of a smooth cotton fleece brown material stitched together in their factory and can be washed and reused.
They give the pads out for free when they have donations and also sell out to other donors who seek to make donations.
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“A pack of seven pads costs Sh1, 300 and they can use four pads a day and wash them and use them second day,” says Rafik.
He says while the girl child has been supported and uplifted, the boys have been left behind in terms of educating them about the menstrual cycle. As a result, Rafik says, the boys end up teasing and bullying the girls during their menstrual period. Most girls prefer to stay home.
“The boys don’t know or understand what periods are and that it is a natural process. Because we have made it look like a shameful occurrence, the boys see it as a girls’ problem,” says Rafik.
He says even in the 21 century, girls feel shy when going to buy pads from the shop and will either turn away or use sign language if the shopkeeper is male.
Rafik blames the community for failing to enlighten and empower both the girls and boys about menstrual hygiene.
He says they have joined hands with several organizations that have accepted reusable pads instead of sanitary towels which are expensive and preferred mostly by those in urban areas.
Rafik says the pads have been tested by the staff and community. He says most of the time when they donate the pads to communities that can access roads and shops, they don’t appreciate as opposed to those who are in remote areas.
“When you take these pads to girls in Mombasa, they will never use them because they can afford sanitary towels,” says Rafik.
To avoid duplicity of donations and projects, Rafik has formed a WhatsApp group where 26 organizations they are working with communicate with each other on their activities.
“In the past, when we went to an orphanage to donate stuff like mattresses, we realized that some had already received the same donations. However, they kept quiet and showed donors empty beds while the mattresses are in the stores,” says Rafik.
He says his organization runs their projects on a 100 per cent donation policy.
To take care of the transportation costs, maintenance of their office and paying staff, Rafik’s organization relies on their own income-generating activities such as delivery services and catering services, among others.