May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD), a day dedicated to advocating for women’s right to a hygienic, safe, private and dignified menstruation. It is marked worldwide with different initiatives taken up to call attention on the plight of over 2 billion women and girls who menstruate every month.
As such, media personality Janet Mbugua, who is also a Menstrual Health Management advocate, is petitioning the Kenyan government to put in place policies that will improve menstrual health management (MHM) among Kenyan women.
In a 2017 enactment of Parliament, under The Basic Education (Amendment) Act, the government said it would ‘provide free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl child registered and enrolled in a public basic education institution who has reached puberty and provide a safe and environmentally sound mechanism for disposal of the sanitary towels.’
In her petition, Mbugua states that this isn’t enough to bring about change to MHM. Its insufficiency comes from the fact that the act only talks of providing sanitary products to girls who are enrolled in public schools. It leaves out girls who aren’t enrolled in school, low-income women, women with disabilities, those enrolled in detention facilities and refugees, who also need this support. It also doesn’t state how the government intends to give out the sanitary pads.
Sanitary products, though readily available, are out of reach for women and girls who come from low-income families. According to the Borgen Project, about 40 million women and girls can’t afford sanitary products. This forces them to use cotton wool, cloths and other products during their menses. These are often detrimental to their health. They can easily leak making the girl uncomfortable.
The petition calls for quality, low-cost products which will enable school-going girls not to miss school on the days when they are on their period, as is the current situation. In a UNICEF report, it was noted that one in every 10 girls of school-going age do not attend school when they are menstruating. This is, on average, four days every four weeks. This puts girls of menstruating age at a disadvantage since in the long-term they miss out on a lot when they aren’t in school.
Due to the inaccessibility of sanitary products, some women are forced to take part in transactional sex, making them sex workers, so that they can get money to buy sanitary products. This is another risk to women since they are further exposed to sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancies among other effects.
Mbugua calls on the members of the National Assembly to deliberate on this issue and put in place policies that will support women and girls.
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