I have recently conducted research around Oyugis, Kenya, to understand the problems young women face during their menses and will write a full report. In the meantime however I feel it right to share my initial findings. I have interviewed groups of girls aged 14 to 18 from different schools and have gathered a lot of information about the issues that arise every month for these girls and the serious implications for their everyday lives, their education and their future. 100 diaries were also distributed for me by Upendo Federation staff across girls in 6 primary and 6 secondary schools. They were asked to comment on how they felt and problems they face during their menses.
I found a lack of access to sanitary towels due to cost, supply or awareness of hygiene has meant that girls often go without them. This often forces them to use other materials such as old clothes which not only cause infection, but can lead to implications for their education. At every school girls have commented on feeling embarrassed and unable to concentrate in class due to fear of staining their clothes, smelling or generally being uncomfortable. The majority of girls told me they would miss school completely during these times, causing their grades to drop as they struggle to keep up with lessons. Most disturbingly, many girls reported that often they sell themselves in order to acquire sanitary towels or clean pants from men, which often happens when they stay home from school each month. There are even reports of girls who have had to leave school all together due to menstrual problems.
KaGiS (Keep a Girl in School), a group within Amani UK, has worked to supply so many of these girls with sanitary towels, which has certainly started to improve their lives and school performance. However, my research has found that they are still not receiving nearly enough to last throughout their periods. A sanitary towel is something so many of us take for granted each month, yet a lack of them has created a multitude of problems for young women every day in Oyugis. All girls should be allowed the right to complete their education and take every opportunity they are offered in life and something as simple as a natural bodily function should not stop them! They should not have to resort to degrading activity that we in the West would find totally unacceptable. All of these problems can be solved with such a simple solution.
Kiera Maclean - UK university student