NAIROBI, Kenya — One of the most significant hardships for women living in developing countries is feminine hygiene. Kenyan women are no exception to this adversity. It impacts every community. Without proper education or resources to address feminine hygiene, many women in Kenya are susceptible to infections and other health risks. Menstrual cycles give girls in villages a monthly challenge and sometimes cause them to miss school, hindering educational development. Fortunately enough, there have been movements empowering women in Kenya through the use of reusable pads and the increase of menstrual education.
Kept in the Dark
In Kenya, 65 percent of women do not have access to sanitary pads. Either they cannot afford the cost of menstrual products or the products aren’t available in rural areas where they live. These women are left to use homemade alternatives such as rags, blankets, pieces of mattress, tissue paper and wool. The sanitary value of these substitutes is often compromised, exposing her to infections.
Cultural taboos play a large part in feminine hygiene as well. Insertable products, such as tampons and menstrual cups, are disapproved by many Kenyan communities. Certain regions believe them to conflict with a women’s purity and virginity. Many women are uncomfortable with insertables for this reason. Taboos affect not only product usage but also the availability of information on feminine hygiene. Reports show that only 12 percent of Kenyan girls feel comfortable discussing menstrual topics with their mothers. This makes it difficult to close the gap in accessing vital puberty awareness and education.
The trials of feminine hygiene in Kenya are simple and attainable solutions to the problem. Reusable pads can provide an essential alternative for girls in rural and low-income areas. Two organizations are at the forefront of this innovative initiative of empowering women in Kenya: ZanaAfrica and AFRIpads.
The common goal of the companies is to supply Kenyan women with products needed to support women through menstruation. These products improve the overall quality of life and help keep girls in school. By staying in school, a girl is less likely to fall victim to situations like early childhood marriage and teenage pregnancy.
Many adolescent girls in Kenya lack the support needed to make healthy and informed decisions about their bodies and lives. Supplying girls with reusable and sanitary pads is only half the battle. ZanaAfrica and AFRIpads understand this and emphasize that female reproduction and sex education is also a vital step in empowering women in Kenya.
Not only do these organizations supply necessary cost-efficient and reliable menstrual products but they also provide health education to communities. ZanaAfrica’s health education program is called Nia Teen. It supplies a comprehensive health magazine to aid in the guidance and affirmations of Kenyan girls. Kenya schools don’t have formalized mandated reproductive health education. ZanaAfrica is working to fill the gaps and lay the groundwork for school-based reproductive health and rights education.
The Truth Behind Empowerment
According to a conducted study on menstrual health in Kenya sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “Empowerment is the process by which a girl expands her current and future ability to make and act on strategic life choices. Empowerment outcomes can include agency, social support, decision-making control, and security.” Access to primary feminine hygiene care is the foundation upon which future development and opportunities grow for women. As reusable pads reach more and more Kenyan communities, the greater the empowerment becomes for its local women.
How can people make a difference and support these girls’ empowerment? Donations as small as 5 dollars can supply a Kenyan woman with vital menstrual products for an entire year. Providing this funding helps girls stay in school and have access to education about their bodies and rights. Among ZanaAfrica and AFRIpads, other noteworthy establishments are striving towards similar goals. Some of these organizations are Huru, Too Little Children and One Acre Fund.
– Ariana Kiessling