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Women deserve to have their periods in peace

BLOGS
By Phannie Kwegah | May 28th 2021

The world Menstrual Hygiene Day is marked globally on every May 28 because May is the fifth calendar month and periods typically last for five days with the average menstrual cycle lasting 28 days.

It is a day that nonprofits, government agencies, the private sector, the media, and individuals come together to celebrate progress on Menstrual Health Hygiene around the world and to advocate for the importance of good Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). 

In Kenya, over 70 per cent of girls and women under periods. For thousands of these women, untold barriers prevent them from managing their periods properly, while many lack safe and hygienic menstrual products. What’s more, the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these barriers and challenges.

When our girls attain menarche which is the age of menstruation, often, very little information is given to them about the biological and psychological processes involved and the hygienic practices to be followed to stay healthy, clean and confident. This is because menstruation and their girl-development are not topics discussed openly.

On this day and on all other days, therefore, we should strive to arm girls and women with information, knowledge and skills for safe management of menstruation, help them break the taboos and silence surrounding menstruation and make them feel comfortable to seek help from others (including boys and men).

We need to destigmatize menstruation by breaking accompanying social stigmas, taboos and silence, raise awareness and change negative social norms surrounding MHM in our homes, communities, schools, work places, churches, and every place and spaces women and girls are.

We need to advocate for every girl and woman to be able to access and afford the menstrual products of their choice, advocate for proper water and sanitation infrastructure in our schools, markets, hospitals, churches, public service transportation terminals and in our homes.

In doing so we shall ensure that dignity for women and girls is preserved, all girls and women reach their full potential in the classroom, in the workplace, and at home. There will be a decline of long-standing discrimination and societal norms that reinforce traditional roles, prejudices, and expectations.

It is noteworthy to mention that Kenya is making strides towards a healthy MHM environment for all. The ministry of Health and other stakeholders developed an MHM Policy and Strategy. Kenya’s Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Policy was launched on May 28, 2020 by the Cabinet Secretary for Health. The policy was developed by the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders and the process of its development started in the year 2015. The Policy was launched at a time when Kenya was at the heart of Covid-19 prevention and response.

The MHM policy provides an Implementation framework for MHM, outlines the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders and sets out an enabling environment for MHM advocacy in schools and in communities. The policy also provides for development of proper Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in schools and communities, establishes an enabling legal and regulatory environment for MHM at both National and County levels and a functionally effective monitoring, evaluation, research and learning framework for MHM in Kenya to ensure maximum accountability in policy implementation at both national and county levels.

Unfortunately, its implementation has been hampered by the Covid-19 Pandemic and to date the Policy has been disseminated to only 17 Counties in Kenya.

It is our desire that we shall see intentional implementation of the policy across the country, in all counties and guided public discourse and conversations on MHM. We hope the government through the ministry of Trade and Industrialisation and other partners can invest its resources in ensuring that menstrual products are affordable and accessible to all including those from low income earning households.

Menstrual hygiene management is a health affair and a human right provided for in the Constitution under the right to dignity. As such we need to see more action both at national level and in Counties on implementing the MHM policy and Strategy.

We need to see structured and guided conversations and leadership in as far as MHM policy implementation is concerned. Counties need to be on the forefront in championing for proper WASH infrastructure and access to menstrual products. Counties need to lead in conversations about destigmatizing menstruation and advocating for inclusion by inviting men into these conversations right from our homes, our churches, at school, at community level and in general public.

We have this unfortunate situation where a basic biological function, and health issue, has instead become taboo, to the extent of stigmatising half of Kenya’s population, and particularly women and girls from poor backgrounds. This stigmatisation is worse for women and girls from marginalized communities and those living with disability whose plight is magnified by poor or no access to clean water.

All Kenyans, and particularly those at every level of leadership, must, as a matter of urgency begin a conversation on how we can equip girls and women with Menstrual health and hygiene products, knowledge and information that aids them navigate puberty while in and out of school, help preserve their dignity and help debunk the myths and taboos that surround menstruation.

Intrinsic in this conservation must be an overriding and concerted effort to goal to end Period Poverty in our communities and empower a generation of self-aware confident girls and women. This can be achieved if county leaders, community leaders, religious institutions and school leaders partner to sensitize, create awareness and ensure MHM information and uptake is accessible to all women and girls.

On this day as we celebrate the progress that governments, individuals, non-profit organizations, private sector are making towards creating a healthy MHM environment we should not be lax as more work needs to be done to ensure accessibility and affordability of these products and intentional and continued advocacy and awareness on proper MHM.

We owe it to our mothers and daughters to ensure that menstrual products are free and available to all girls and women as it is in Scotland.

The time to start that journey is now.

 

— Phannie Kwegah is an advocate and founder and director, My Flow

Foundation

 

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