Sex for pads leads to quasi-prostitution, drop-outs
HEALTH & SCIENCEBy ROSE MUKONYO AND MERCY KAHENDA | Thu,May 27 2021 19:34:21 EATBy ROSE MUKONYO AND MERCY KAHENDA | Thu,May 27 2021 19:34:21 EAT
Maureen Kiremi could not access sanitary towels during the pandemic affecting her self-esteem.
In her desperation, the 16-year-old befriended a boda boda rider who bought the pads, but in due course, the friendship turned intimate resulting in a pregnancy.
Maureen, then a Form Three student in Mathare North contemplated an abortion. She hid her condition from her step-mother, but still, word spread attracting the attention of Coleman Onyango Ombok, a resident who has been helping adolescent school girls. Like Maureen who became a mother at 17, terminating her schooling as her fees went to motherhood.
Though Maureen later enrolled in a day school, an arrangement which allowed her to take care of her baby, her story is no different from 50 other girls who got pregnant in Mathare North during the long school breaks occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic-which turned many girls into quasi-prostitutes to afford not just pads but also food.
The outbreak of teenage pregnancies during lockdowns attracted Ombok’s curiosity and besides peer pressure, “I was shocked to learn that they were trading sex for pads during their menses” and sex for pads was their way of fending for themselves and their families.
Ombok started a small outfit under the Students Reproductive Health Program via which girls were sensitized against early pregnancies alongside their male counterparts while helping those who needed sanitary pads meaning “the money their parents would have spent to buy them would be used on food and other family needs,” explained Ombok adding that he provided re-usable sanitary pads that were so good the girls’ mothers requested to be included in the program.
Poverty was the leading cause of sex for pads as most girls were from poor, single mother backgrounds which saw Ombok starting a Vulnerable Household Support program to help out with food donations which now reach 2500 households between June 2020 and February 2021.
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) annually marked on May 28 comes in the background of such challenges. This year’s theme is “More action and investment in menstrual health and hygiene now” and with it, a call to find lasting solutions from government agencies, NGOs and individuals. There is also the need for creating awareness on menstrual hygiene besides advocating for an enabling environment for girls and women to manage their menses with privacy, safety and dignity.
Women and girls in Kenya lack adequate facilities for MHM including few separate toilets for girls, disposal of used sanitary pads and most parts of rural Kenya lack water and soap for washing hands, according to the Ministry of Health.
These barriers have impended human rights and fundamental freedoms including their right to education, health, decent work and right to information from myths and taboos around this biological phenomenon.
The ministry also states that poor menstrual hygiene results in overall poor social status of females from lack of education, stigma, poor sanitation and health infrastructure.
In Kenya, UNICEF has been engaging the government in developing policy and strategy on menstrual health which saw the Education Act amended to include guidelines for water and sanitation in schools besides revising the Teacher Training Handbook to include MHM as well as a Handbook for girls and boys to understand puberty.
Over 100,000 school going girls have so far benefited from education on MHM besides access to free re-usable sanitary towels- which are cost-effective, durable and environmentally friendly.
According to Agnes Makanyi, the Water and Sanitary specialist at UNICEF says the organization has been providing sanitary towels, and girl-friendly toilets with water storage plants and “hand washing sinks with locally produced soap for the girls to wash their hands after visiting the toilets,” said Makanyi adding that schools have also been trained on maintenance of WASH facilities as “girls will miss school if the door to their toilet is broken down because they need their privacy when changing their pads.”
The Kenya Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Policy (KESH) recognize menstruation as a key indicator of health and vitality for women and girls.
Indeed, those living in informal, urban settlements characterized by high population density, overcrowded spaces, and shared utilities and facilities were an interesting case study. Most experienced poor hygiene and sanitation practices and had limited access to clean, safe water and soap-all which were worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic in which most households suffered economic challenges.
In Kenya, most schools and families also throw sanitary products into pit latrines, causing more frequent refilling of pits, preventing the organic decomposition of fecal matter and polluting the water table, making menstrual hygiene an environmental headache as well.
46 - Percentage of girls and women who use disposable sanitary pads while six percent use reusable ones.
7 - Percentage of girls and women who rely on old clothes, pieces of blanket, chicken feathers, mud, and even newspapers as pads
54 - Percentage of Kenyan girls with challenges accessing MHM products, 22 percent of them school-going girls
76 - Percentage Kenyan women and girls with challenges accessing adequate water and sanitation facilities for menstruation
17 - Percentage of learning institutions in Kenya with running water near the toilets and washing facilities with soap
Source: UNICEF/Maseno University
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