Period poverty is a problem. One in 10 girls in Africa miss school during their period because they don’t have access to sanitary products, or because there aren’t safe, private toilets for them to use at school.1 In a class of thirty girls, that means three students are falling behind with their studies every month. Simply because they’re girls.
When girls can't afford to buy sanitary products, it can stop them from achieving their full potential. Find out how period poverty is affecting girls in Nyarongi, Kenya, and how you can help make sure that periods don't hold girls back.
Menstruation matters: getting access to sanitary products
Lavender lives in Nyarongi, one of the poorest parts of Kenya. Some families in her area have to choose between buying food and sanitary towels. They struggle to afford the vital sanitary protection or underwear that girls need to manage their periods with dignity.
When girls don’t have sanitary towels, they often don’t want – or simply can’t — go to school. They worry they’ll stain their uniform or get blood on their classroom chair. It’s uncomfortable enough when accidents like this happen at home— let alone at school, where there are plenty of other children around to tease you. And when there isn’t a safe, private toilet, or clean water to use at school, girls feel insecure and uncomfortable going to the toilet during menstruation.
Period poverty can expose girls to violence
Girls who fall behind with their studies are more likely to drop out of school completely. Without the support of teachers and school friends, and without the knowledge and confidence to stand up for their rights, girls become increasingly vulnerable. They are at greater risk of exposure to sexual exploitation and abuse. One in three girls in Kenya has experienced sexual violence.
When girls aren’t in school, they’re more likely to be subjected to child marriage or early pregnancy. This can have a huge impact on their health and wellbeing. Without the knowledge or power to make decisions about safe sex, they’re at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. And when girls give birth at a young age, this can cause complications that have a devastating impact on their health and wellbeing and can last for the rest of their lives.
ActionAid is making sure that periods don’t hold girls back
In Nyarongi, we’re working with local women’s groups to help educate girls about periods, sex, and pregnancy, so they’re more informed about their bodies. Through local girls’ forums, we’re providing girls with the information they need so they know what to expect when their period starts. We’re giving them the confidence to manage their periods with dignity and take care of their menstrual hygiene. As 12-year-old Judy explains:
During our girls’ forum our teacher explained to us that if you see your period, you should not be scared, we can use the pads, change it in the evening and take a shower.”
But information isn’t enough. The Nyarongi Women’s Network, supported by ActionAid, has started an initiative to tackle period poverty. They’ve launched a farming project that helps provide additional income for families that can be spent on basic necessities, like sanitary towels. Irene, the Chairperson of the Network, says:
[The children] can make their small market garden at home to make some funds to buy essentials. When they have a small market garden, the girls can go to the market and get sanitary towels.”
The group are also working with local teachers to make sure that girls have access to safe, clean sanitary products in school. Through their tireless work, Irene and the Nyarongi Women’s Network are helping to make sure that periods don’t hold girls back.
How you can help end period poverty
For World Menstrual Hygiene Day, we’re supporting women and girls in some of the poorest parts of the world so they have the resources they need to manage their periods with dignity.
By donating to our appeal, you can help make sure that young girls have the knowledge, skills and resources to take control of their bodies and make sure their periods don’t hold them back.
Give before 7 June and your donation will be doubled by the UK government, pound for pound, as part of their UK Aid Match scheme. This means your donation will have double the impact. With your support, we can reach twice as many girls facing period poverty and help protect them from violence, exploitation and abuse.
Photo credits: Karin Schermbrucker/ActionAid