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Innovating menstrual hygiene products for women and girls with disabilities

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World Health Organization statistics place the percentage of persons with disabilities in the world at 15%. Various countries have different figures influenced by the nature of data collection instruments and practices which are not always fashioned to properly capture disability specific data.

The 2009 Kenyan census placed the figure at about 6 million Kenyans at the time, a figure that has received varying reactions by the disability community and Kenyans at large. Women and girls with disabilities occupy and play a great part in all sectors of the country’s economy. This is, however, dependent on how much of the spaces in physical and virtual innovations have been fashioned to accommodate disability-specific needs.

Menstrual health awareness among women and girls with disabilities

When it comes to menstruation for women and girls with disabilities, we for the most part have similar challenges as our non-disabled peers. We got our first bits of information about menstruation in school. When girls and boys would be taken separate rooms and the girls would be handed with packs of sanitary pads. A tutor would then go ahead to explain that we would bleed when we came of age every month. That goes for those of us who have gone through the formal education system.

Faith Njahîra (Courtesy)

 I may not be able to speak for all the women and girls with disabilities about their menstruation experience but I can my own.

My periods evened out in my late teens and started to become a monthly nightmare in my twenties. I have muscular dystrophy which is a progressive muscle wasting disabling condition which impacts on my mobility. The luxury of strength to do physical exerting activities such as washing clothes or going shopping in a world that is full of stairs is one that has progressively become elusive.

Having to use diapers

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This has meant that I will often ask for menstruation supplies from people helping with my shopping - and I’m okay with someone seeing my underwear if they are assisting me with personal hygiene. Just as most ladies who get their periods, those of us with disabilities have to go through various brands of sanitary pads available in the market to see which best suits. Some disabilities come with a component of environmental sensitivity to materials used, some of us need to use diapers because of incontinence which may be a factor to our disabilities.

For wheelchair users even part-time ones like myself, we might be seated down for long periods and at times rely on someone helping us change position. This is where innovations in menstrual hygiene products are put to the test. I found out that extra-long sanitary pads with a wider back, allow us not to be worried about our menstrual flow being contained.

Price of products compromising hygiene

For moments when we are using diapers, then this gets slightly complicated as incontinence products do not always factor in the possibility of menstruating and the other way around. With the cost, these two groups of products being so high with a 10-pack of diapers in Kenya costing about Ksh. 700, this at times also compromises the hygiene of women and girls with disabilities who are already disenfranchised by the capitalist society with high rates of unemployment.

There is dire need for innovations that recognize that we cannot draw the line between our disabilities and our genders. Products that factor in the high cost of living in the country would definitely be welcomed.

Government subsidies to these products would also go along way as the tax-exemption available for those with disabilities does not influence the market prices of these items.

 

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About the author

Faith Njahîra is a disabled woman and part-time wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy. She is the Programs Director at This-Ability Trust which works to create visibility for women and girls with disabilities especially around sexual and reproductive health rights and economic empowerment.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Evewoman.co.ke

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