Walk the talk in bid to end menstrual stigma

Senator Gloria Orwoba's billboard is being put up in Nairobi CBD after she appeared in senate with a stained outfit claiming she had stained it because of her periods.

In the countdown to the world Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, the need to break taboos and end stigma surrounding menstruation has never been more urgent.

In the interest of millions of Kenyan girls and women afflicted by poverty who have endured period shaming, every effort made towards making amends, counts.

According to the United Nations, one in 10 African schoolgirls misses school during their menstruation, and many of them, studies show, have ended up dropping out of school altogether after lagging behind month in month out.

According to government data, only an estimated 46 per cent of women and girls in rural areas and 65 per cent in urban areas have access to and use disposable pads. Many use toilet paper, pieces of blanket or cloth, or natural materials to handle their menstruation.

As a legislator touched by the plight of Kenyan women and girls, I'm determined to stay the cause of ending period shaming through sustained advocacy and legislation, for instance the Basic Education (Amendment Bill), 2023, which among others seeks to entrench provision of free sanitary towels to female students and prisoners.

Not only, my focus unwaveringly remains breaking the silence in all manner of public forums - be they political rallies and advocacy outreaches across the country.

This will not only raise awareness around the issues at stake but also change negative social norms on mensuration that beleaguer innocent girls. We must walk the talk and increase political priority and clamour for action. Recently, I took part in distribution of free sanitary towels to girls in Kilifi County.

This was followed by a similar mission to Langata Women's Prison which was graced by among others, First Lady Rachel Ruto. Together, we must fight to correct the wrongs.

The public debate that followed by Valentine's Day march to Parliament in a white pantsuit stained by menstrual blood only but served to confirm the urgency with which the Kenyan society must act to raise access to sanitary pads and change the negative perception around this natural occurrence. Apart from dropping out of school, girls and women have endured poor hygiene, urinary tract and vaginal infections, early pregnancies and STIs. The victims often feel unwanted. It is heartening that AMREF has come on board to support these initiatives and turn the tide. In 2019, a schoolgirl committed suicide after being called dirty and sent home by her teacher. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is another vice that must be stopped in its tracks. At national, local and even regional levels, we must protect girls and women from this retrogressive practice. According to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, the prevalence of FGM is 15 per cent, meaning 15 per cent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 have been circumcised.

They say two hands are better than. I am looking to push regulations to ensure those participating in circumcising girls are sensitised against the act. I recently took a trip to Samburu County to launch an anti-FGM campaign bringing on board local administrators, politicians and community mobilisers.

In the Gusii region where I come from, I have devoted my time to go against the tide and fight FGM even if it will come with political consequences. For change to come our way, leaders must be ready to go into uncharted waters with pro-change campaign.

The writer is Nominated Senator. Twitter: @gloria_orwoba