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Pads saga: Shame of four million schoolgirls abandoned by State

By Amos Kareithi | September 14th 2019

Two young African school girls showing friendship. Government is on the spotlight for neglecting schoolgirls in dire need of sanitary towels. [File, Standard]

For nine long months, the government has not distributed sanitary pads to public schools, exposing 4.2 million girls to shame, at times forcing some to abandon learning.

Since the beginning of the year, the government has not issued a single sanitary pad to the vulnerable girls, even as politicians and government agencies squabble for the control of more than Sh400 million meant to fund the programme.

Last year, the government gave 3.7 million girls four packs of sanitary pads, only enough to last four months leaving them to their own devices for the remaining period.

Yesterday, Public Service and Gender Affairs Principal Secretary Safina Kwekwe Tsungu painted a grim picture of the situation in public schools across the country.

Heated debate

“When we started distributing the sanitary pads in the 2017-18 financial year, we gave them out to 3.7 million girls. We spent Sh460 million. We only gave four packs to girls in public primary, secondary and special schools. We had nothing for girls in vocational training and other institutions, “ she said.

This year, the State Department of Gender was targeting to spend Sh460 million in providing four packs to each of the 4.2 million girls but nothing has happened so far.

“We have been having challenges because the money is not adequate. We need to have more so that girls can remain in school throughout but we have only been able to give them four months supply in the past,” Tsungu said.

Shortly before this year’s budget was passed in Parliament, there was a heated debate after Treasury wrote to Kimani Ichungw’a, the chairman of the Budget Appropriations Committee, to have the money meant for sanitary pads moved from the Department of Gender to that of Education.

The mood of the MPs in Parliament as they debated the motion moved by Ichung’wa aptly captured the disdain within which menstrual health is taken in this country.

The leader of government business, Aden Duale, said: ”I do not think with a budget of Sh2.7 trillion, this afternoon we should argue on a matter as small as Sh420 million. Again, concerning our girls, we do not look serious discussing a little amount given to sanitary pads. In the community where I come from, we do not discuss such things.”

His response to Hassan Wario, who had protested the proposed takeover of the sanitary pad millions by the Ministry of Education, was met by laughter, although Ichung’wa chided those who were trying to trivialize the matter declaring he had two daughters.

Although the motion aborted and the money was left in the Gender docket, the schoolgirls have been waiting for the whole of this year.

Initially, the vote head was in the Ministry of Education where the distribution of the pads was dogged with controversy and allegations that top ministry officials had hijacked the tenders and gifted them to themselves and cronies.

Education PS Belio Kipsang has had to defend himself in Parliament after allegations that a company he was alleged to be associated with had been given Sh23 million tender to supply pads.

Reusable pads

When he appeared before a parliamentary committee probing the matter, the PS was also questioned on why some of the companies which had been awarded tenders in 2016 had given higher bids than those which were rejected.

This was not the first attempt to take the kitty from the Gender department, as Women Representatives too had tried through a motion in Parliament that flopped.

Although the distribution of the pads is now the work of the Department of Gender, Tsungu explained that in the next allocation, they will involve the Ministry of Education for distribution because they have better infrastructure.

She said some NGOs have been offering some reusable pads, but the government has not authorised their use because the country has not established standards.

One teacher from Kajiado explained how her students had abandoned using reusable pads after only one use because of the indignity this had exposed them to.

“We were only given the pads once last year yet the neighbouring school gets six packets per term. We had reusable pads donated by an NGO but the girls refused to use them. They explained that they were embarrassed to carry the towels in matatus. Some said they had no adequate water to wash them and the pads became unhygienic to carry,” said the teacher.

Humiliating conditions

A former Kiambu MP, Anna Nyokabi Gathecha, said although the resources were scarce, it was shameful for girls to be exposed to humiliating conditions by some leaders who were only interested in making money at their expense.

“There have been cases where money meant for pads for girls from poor families have been misused. Let those who play such games know that they are buying curses for their children and grandchildren,” she warned.

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