By Sarah Ouma and Hannah Bain
Though the Kenyan government launched its first-ever Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Policy in 2019, 65% of girls and women still cannot afford critical sanitary products. Furthermore, only 50% of girls reported that they openly discussed menstruation at home. This limited access to sanitary products and knowledge about MHM can lead to dangerous bacterial infections, missed school days, and myths and misconceptions that continually fuel menstrual shame.
CFK seeks to address these issues by providing adolescent girls and young women in informal settlements with access to sanitary products and education about MHM. During this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day, CFK’s Girls Empowerment Program (GEP) team invited 100 youth to participate in sessions about MHM and learn more about the services offered at our Young Health and Wellness Centre. Seventy-eight (78) girls and 22 boys aged 10 to 19 attended, and we divided the youth into three groups.
“Though we divided adolescent girls and young women into three different groups, we kept boys and girls together,” said Sarah Ouma, CFK’s Girls Empowerment program coordinator. “Normally, schools lead girls-only sessions on MHM, so boys usually don’t have a chance to learn about menstruation. This misunderstanding can lead to them making fun of girls instead of supporting them during their periods.”
Managing Menstrual Hygiene & Addressing Stigma
During the event, GEP staff and mentors led the adolescent girls and young women through three different sessions. The first session focused on the idea behind Menstrual Hygiene Day and why it is important. Staff emphasized that menstruation is a natural occurrence and should be discussed openly and honestly. They also taught girls and boys about different hygiene products, such as reusable sanitary towels, tampons, ruby cups, and disposable sanitary towels, and led demonstrations on how to use and dispose of them properly.
Next, the GEP team invited a nurse from Tabitha Medical Clinic to speak on the importance of hygiene before, during, and after menstruation. Since many girls take painkillers during their cycle, the nurse highlighted the dangers of overusing painkillers and led girls in an open discussion about how they felt during menses. Throughout this session, boys also learned how to actively support and stand up for girls to minimize any discomfort or embarrassment they might feel during menstruation.
“To address the stigma surrounding menstruation in Kibera community and Kenya at large, we need support and understanding across genders, and hence male engagement is important. I was happy to see many of the boys in attendance asking questions and participating in the activities,” Sarah said.
At the end of the event, participants visited CFK’s Young Health and Wellness Centre to learn about the youth-friendly resources available at the facility, including mental health counseling and sexual and reproductive health services. After the final session, girls received hygiene packs with sanitary towels, tissue paper, soap, underwear, and Vaseline, and boys received a pack with exercise books, soap, tissue paper, rulers, and Vaseline.
“We wanted adolescent girls and young women to leave this event understanding that menstruation is natural and nothing to be ashamed, scared, or uncomfortable about,” Sarah explained. “Different communities still have their own myths and misconceptions about menstruation, and we believe that educating youth is the first step in addressing this misinformation.”