The recent news that Kenya’s government will give free sanitary towels are to schoolgirls is a big step towards making sure they don't have to drop out of school when they have their period. It's unfair that millions of girls in the developing world are held back by their periods - so we welcome this move to ensure that all schoolgirls in Kenya have access to sanitary towels and tampons.
“The Kenyan government is making a vital contribution to ensuring girls receive an education and are treated the same way as boys,” says Agnes Kola, National Women’s Rights Coordinator at ActionAid Kenya. “Lack of access to quality, free and sufficient sanitary products means many young girls drop out of school while on their period, putting them at greater risk of child marriage and getting pregnant at a younger age.”
Purity, 13, and Abigail, 14, are two girls who would often miss classes at their school in West Pokot, Kenya, because they couldn’t afford sanitary pads. This new initiative will help to change this for other schoolgirls.
The Kenyan government is making a vital contribution to ensuring girls receive an education and are treated the same way as boys.
Abigail explains: “When I have blood I sometimes miss lessons because I might stain myself. Plus it’s a mixed school. I miss three days a month because of my periods. If I can’t borrow pads from my friends then I use cloth but it’s not reliable.”
One in 10 girls in Africa misses school when they have their period
It’s estimated that one in 10 girls in Africa will miss school when they have their period. And not having access to sanitary towels is just one barrier that girls face.
In Rwanda, ActionAid has built safe spaces for girls in nine schools. These safe spaces are rooms run by a matron in a separate building away from the school, equipped with a toilet, a shower, sanitary products, spare clothes, and a private space to change and rest. They ensure that girls don’t have to fear the embarrassment of stains on their clothes, and boys in their class bullying them about it, which stops them from going to school.
Girls learning about their bodies and their rights
As well as providing sanitary towels and safe spaces in schools, ActionAid is working with local communities to provide safe environments where girls can ask questions about periods, sex and pregnancy, and become better informed about their own bodies and understand their rights. This is crucial in tackling damaging taboos around menstruation that hold women and girls back.
Abigail describes some of the taboos that girls in her community face when they have their period. “At home a girl on her periods is not allowed to touch utensils or even fetch water. She can only use the firewood and she has a specific plate and cup that she uses for her meals. This is bad because segregating you because of your periods will make you look alone and it gives you that impression that you are not wanted in a group. “
So in addition to providing free sanitary pads which we welcome and applaud, there is much more to be done. A regular donation from you will support our work to ensure that girls aren’t held back by their periods. Please donate now.
Photo credits: Ashley Hamer /ActionAid, Jennifer Huxta/ActionAid