Seeing Red: Celebrating the Unsung Hero-Kenya’s Menstrual Daddy

Leonida Odongo
Posted July 6, 2020 from Kenya

Menstruation starts at different ages depending on one’s maturity. Some start their menarche early, for others it is delayed. In many African households, sex and sexuality are issues shrouded in silence and mystery, issues related to menstruation are more often deemed dirty and never spoken about. It is a challenge growing up as a female in an African household because periods are seen as shame, for others it is seen as being ripe for marriage and producing children, making it an excuse to marry off young girls sometimes to men 4 or 7 times their age.

When menstruation starts, many girls find it difficult to open up about what is happening to them, they may not have the knowledge of period calculator to know when the next menses and hence when the next period comes, it may happen in the school parade, when out playing sports or when going back home for lunch. The shame that comes with period makes many girls to drop out of school because they get taunted especially by males. In addition, poverty may make parents unable to buy sanitary pads for their daughters, in some cases even mothers themselves cannot afford sanitary pads in the first place and make do with pieces of cloth. There are also reported cases of girls using papers[1] , furthermore many vulnerable girls depend on educational institutions to provide these important reproductive health materials but with the closure of schools, many school girls can no longer access sanitary pads. In different parts of Africa, women and girls face a variety of challenges during their menstruation. These range from costs, cramps, lack of privacy, water and sanitation.

In Kenya, the story of menses reflects the sad reality and an everyday challenge for many women and girls. Due to period shame and the resultant humiliation due to menstruation, a 14-year-old girl committed suicide because of being singled out by her male teacher due to soiling her uniform[2].When a girl menstruates in school, many a times she gets mocked by males, this makes her feel humiliated and loses confidence. In the long run this form of humiliation has a great impact on girl’s education and  in some cases may make the girl drop out of school. Other factors that make the cost of pads unaffordable include costs. A packet of Always sanitary pads goes for Kshs 85; the purchase of pads also depends on how heavy one flows. Sometimes the menstrual flow can be heavy, this means more than 1 packet of sanitary pads at a given time. Woe unto you if there is no money at home to purchase pads for you. It means either this girl will stay at home during her menses or use pieces of clothes which sometimes may not be clean and has the danger of making the transferring infections to the reproductive organs. Access to clean water during menstruation is very important, however this become a challenge in places where there is no clean running water and there is also risk of infections especially in congested neighbourhoods where families have to share bathrooms and toilets. Additionally, the lack of access to clean, running water makes it a challenge for girls to bathe properly during menstruation.

Due to inability to afford pads, some young girls are forced into transactional sex in order to access pads. This further put them at an increased risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections and unplanned pregnancy.Some organisations providing re-usable pads, however, they are still not accessible to many girls and women who need them.

Despite the challenges faced by girls and women in accessing sanitary pads, all is not lost. In Nairobi, one young person namely Alfred Abuka   – a student at Kenyatta University is taking it upon himself to make life a bit bearable for girls in informal settlements and other  pockets of poverty in relation to menstruation. Armed with an idea known as the 10 Bob Challenge where an equivalent of Kshs 10 is mobilised among friends and family members to buy sanitary pads and then distribute these to vulnerable girls across different communities in Nairobi. Since the start of the challenge, 400 girls have been reached with information on sexual and reproductive health including confidence building that menstruation is not shameful. Given that the 10 Bob challenge is being spearheaded by a male youth makes it even more valuable and interesting. This is because many a times when females soil their clothes be it in the market, in a bus, in a classroom, it is males who humiliate her more. The 10 Bob Challenge is anchored on the fact that it is possible for males to make a difference even in the smallest way possible and transform people’s attitudes towards things seen shameful. It helps give a humane face to menstruation, to be able to consider it as an important and acceptable part of growing up that one should be excited about not ashamed of. The beauty of the 10 Bob Challenge is that other organisations are reaching out to support the initiative through buying sanitary pads or providing other forms of material support towards the initiative.

Yes, we can teach our brothers, uncles, nephews and sons  that menstruation is not shameful and it is about time families more so in Africa stop treating menstruation as something shameful but as something to be proud of  one's gender , that is being  a WOMAN.

 

[1] https://www.nation.co.ke/kenya/gender/poor-samburu-girls-use-rags-as-sanitary-towels-307150

[2] https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001341516/girl-kills-self-after-teacher-chides-her-over-period

This story was submitted in response to Supporting Our Girls.

Comments 30

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Oludolapo
Jul 06
Jul 06

Well done sis, this is a very huge problem in Africa at large.

Leonida Odongo
Jul 07
Jul 07

True Oludolapo, we need to do our bit to make a difference .

Andrew Brian
Jul 06
Jul 06

Good work Alfred count my support always on what you are doing ,may the good Lord always grant you peace ,love and strength

Leonida Odongo
Jul 07
Jul 07

Thank you Andrew

Hawah Maria
Jul 06
Jul 06

Abuka...you are going places. Good job Kabisa. The smiles in those girls faces is your sling shot.

Leonida Odongo
Jul 07
Jul 07

Thank you Hawah.

Chep Betty Cherootich

Good job

Leonida Odongo
Jul 07
Jul 07

Thank you Chep

Hello, dear Leonida,

This is a comprehensive write up on the urgency to address menstrual hygiene in African countries. Your write up summarizes the stories I read from African sisters, from being married young, being bullied, dealing with water scarcity or unsafe water, and more.

It's my first time to know about 10 Bob Challenge. What a loving initiative to menstruating girls. Thank you for always writing about your country and the African continent as a whole. You're like a professor where I learn something new in the World Pulse University.

Thank you so much, Prof. Leonida! Please keep writing more! You're so full of knowledge, skills, and experience. More than that, you do everything with your heart.

Leonida Odongo
Jul 08
Jul 08

Awww thank you Karen.

Chi8629
Jul 08
Jul 08

Thank you for sharing Sister .

Leonida Odongo
Jul 09
Jul 09

Most welcome sister Chi8629

Thank you
Leonida

Jeanine A
Jul 09
Jul 09

Thank you for spreading awareness about this issue and information one of current solutions.

Leonida Odongo
Jul 09
Jul 09

Dear Jeanine,

You are most welcome .

Thank you
Leonida

simranbhandarkar
Jul 09
Jul 09

Thank you so much for shedding light on to such an a crucial topic that needs to be talked about!

Leonida Odongo
Jul 09
Jul 09

You are most welcome sister

Tamarack Verrall
Jul 10
Jul 10

There is so much change that can be done if other men take the lead of this young man, Alfred Abuka. There are so many physical hurdles for girls, which you have listed so well. That girls are shamed by men and boys, including that male teacher responsible for the death of a 14 year old girl, shows how important an example Alfred Abuka is setting, in addition to his practical work to provide pads.
That menstruating, related to our ability to give birth, would ever be shamed rather than honoured, shows how far we still have to go. Your work and Alfred's change and save lives.

Leonida Odongo
Jul 10
Jul 10

Thank you for the comments Tam

UCHE LIN
Jul 12
Jul 12

Wow! I'm really impressed by your tireless contribution and campaign towards awareness of "Mensuration and sanitary pads" Keep up the good work and may God replenish your effort.
thank you for sharing sis!

Leonida Odongo
Jul 12
Jul 12

Thank you for the comments sis.

Leonida

Elizabeth Ziro
Jul 12
Jul 12

Hi Leonida! A girl child advocate you are. Let's rescue a girl at a time.

Leonida Odongo
Jul 14
Jul 14

Shukran Ziro

Hawwah
Jul 13
Jul 13

Dear Leonida,

Menstrual health and hygiene is an extremely important knowledge to have.
I commend all of you on this cause and look forward to the day I can lend my voice and hands to it.
Because I do know just how important it is.
Well done and keep it up.

Leonida Odongo
Jul 14
Jul 14

Thank you very much Hawwah

MUKABA ZAWADI
Jul 14
Jul 14

Thank you for this important message and especially sharing with young girls who do not know their cycle and for this unitiative

MUKABA ZAWADI
Jul 14
Jul 14

Thank you for this important message and especially sharing with young girls who do not know their cycle and for this unitiative

Leonida Odongo
Jul 14
Jul 14

Thank you Zawadi.

Arem
Jul 17
Jul 17

Dear Leonida,
Hope you're well.
Thank you for shedding more light on this topic! I have thought about this issue for a while and your story is great reminder that I should help out in this cause.
Look forward to reading more of your stories. Hope you give us an update in a few months on how the 10 Bob Challenge is coming along.
Take care!

Leonida Odongo
Jul 20
Jul 20

Dear Arem,

Thank you for the comments.I will keep posting updates.

Leonida

Mohinder NGO Founder

Dear Leonida, your work on menstrual hygiene is truly inspiring. I am writing a report on the impact of COVID 19 on girls and although your article is not about COVID, we know that periods don't stop during lockdown but getting sanitary pads has been more difficult for some girls. I would like to use your ten bob challenge initiative as an example of what communities are doing to help each other. Can you contact me, please. Mohinder Watson, Founder Action on Child Early and Forced Marriage. Email address: [email protected] Many thanks and look forward to hearing from you, best Mohinder