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To end period stigma, let men and boys be part the solution

 

  Agnes Makanyi, the WASH specialist working with UNICEF. [Rose Ukonyo, Standard]

When that time of the month came, Scolastica Ndinda, a Grade 7 student at Mlolongo Primary School was always scared and worried as this meant spending long hours seated on her desk the entire day.

This is because when she was on her menstruation, she would use old clothes or pieces of tissue and was afraid of staining her clothes and embarrassing herself in front of the class, especially the boys.

“Sometimes this would happen during class time and because I did not carry my torn pieces of cloth to school that day, then I would cut some pages of used books and use that the entire day. It was very uncomfortable,” she says.

This went on for a while before her mother realised that she had begun getting her periods, and when asked, Ndinda said she was embarrassed to talk about it and was expecting her mother to begin the conversation.

Her mother bought her the sanitary pads but only for a while because she could not manage to buy them each month, meaning Ndinda would keep on using the tattered clothes as sanitary towels.

Ndinda’s story is quite similar to that of Stephanie Nyaboke, a class 8 student in the same school.

She would use pieces of tissue paper wrapped in a handkerchief and just like Ndinda, Nyaboke was afraid of telling her mother that she had begun getting her menses saying she thought she was sick.

Her mother, however, managed to buy her sanitary pads but they would never be enough so she would still borrow from her teachers.

This meant the girls were prone to staining their school dresses and some boys would laugh at them.

“Some boys would laugh at girls when they saw them with sanitary towels in class and also when one stains their uniform, but our teachers have been educating them on menstruation,” says Nyaboke.

Jared Obare, the only male teacher in the school apart from the headteacher has been taking charge of educating the boys about menstruation and menstrual health management.

“Sometimes when a girl finds out that she has messed on her dress in class, I usually send the boys out for a while as we sort the issue, and when the boys come back, I always make sure I speak to them about it,” says Obare.

He says that during class time, he teaches them why they need to take care of their sisters and mothers’ menstrual health as this is a normal process and that there is nothing to laugh about.

Rither Githinji, the deputy headteacher in the school explains that it was the norm for the girls to borrow huge chunks of tissue paper from the teachers and they did not explain how they were using them until one day, a girl in the school dropped one used material and was too embarrassed to continue with school.

“Although we bought her sanitary pads and counselled her, she opted to transfer from the school owing to the embarrassment she got that day,” says Githinji.

Girls especially those from poor backgrounds in the school have been going through tough periods until Huru International, a non-governmental organization donated reusable sanitary towels.

In a school with a population of 1,600 students where half of that number is likely girls, only 230 were onboarded on the Huru project to supplement the few sanitary pads the school occasionally receives from the government.

Velna Moranga, the Huru lead officer in educating girls on menstrual health says they initially had 80 sanitary kits to donate in the school but when they came face to face with the dire need in the school, they increased that number to 230 girls.

The sanitary kit consists of 3 panties, 6 reusable sanitary towels, a bar of soap and a bag.

Moranga says that Huru begins by sensitising the girls about the changes they are likely to experience during puberty and how to manage their menstrual health.

“We also teach them how to use the reusable sanitary towels and most especially how to clean them and air them to avoid infections during their periods,” says Moraa.

Huru has also been emphasising male inclusion in menstrual health hygiene and management in the workplace.

Pius Mutua also working with Huru International has been leading such projects across 43 low-occupation workplaces across the country including horticulture and garment industries.

“We are looking forward to improving menstrual health in the workplaces to reduce absenteeism, and turnover and increase productivity in the workplaces based on the assumption that at least 65 per cent of women who menstruate are unable to afford adequate sanitary products to manage their menstrual period,” he explains.

Through these workplace projects, they target to improve knowledge on hygiene management, sexual reproductive health, mental health, gender-based violence and development of life skills to about 2,500 menstruators.

They have also sensitised 13,600 men to support their co-workers who are going through menstruation so that they may go through menstruation with pride and dignity.

Over the years UNICEF has been working with the government and schools to promote menstrual health and sanitation by supporting schools to have access to safe water through piped water or drilling of boreholes and provision of water tanks under the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects.

“UNICEF provides gender responsive and disability friendly latrines,” says Agnes Makanyi a WASH specialist with UNICEF. This means there is one block for boys and a separate one for girls with good privacy and a bathroom for the girls to use during menstruation.”

In 2023, UNICEF provided a full water sanitation and hygiene package to 190 schools in arid and semi-arid areas and some parts of informal settlements in Nairobi where over 100,000 schoolchildren were reached.

Makanyi says approximately 180,000 girls were also provided with menstrual hygiene and management kits which consist of sanitary pads, a bucket, soap, and proper education on how to take care of themselves during menstruation and proper disposal of the sanitary pads.

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