Growing up is every girls desire but it has its own challenges and worries. Menstruation time/beginning of a menstruation is a very important time for every girl. Among most girls in my area, it’s a sign of being ready for marriage, for others it’s a period of uncertainty and shame. Periods are termed as unclean and most girls are isolated/” just given time to deal with that women issue.”
I remember as we grew up, we did not understand what period is. Our peers just informed us of some blood coming out of our body for some unknown reason. We really dreaded that moment and eventually when it appeared, a period of fear, shame and isolation came in. You cannot even inform anyone about it. Getting access to pads was a big challenge, actually we didn’t even know what pads are. We had our own management style of using any available material from use of mattresses, to pieces of cloths to use of piece of papers for those in school. You just wake up early in the morning and cut a piece of any mattress in the house to use as a pad if you are lucky enough to have a panty. The mattress is normally cut from below to prevent anybody from noticing you as you cut piece by piece for almost five days of every month. By the time other household members notice that, they will be looking for a serious trap to kill that rat in the house! Some use piece of cloth, any piece of cloth they find in the house and others especially those in school who are brave enough to attend classes without pads use papers cut out from their exercise books. Most girls lack soaps for cleaning so the piece of cloth can be renewed for more than a day without cleaning. Others are lucky enough to buy or get access to cotton wool. This normally helps because it is cost effective but most face the risk of it dropping in between daily chaos creating more shame.
A huge percentage of this young girls lack panties as well. Those looking after animals mostly manage their menstruation by sitting on sand the whole day till sunset, as darkness approaches they walk home as the flow of blood continues. They retire for their night on a dry animal skin which can help in hiding their shame as they wake up early in the morning to start their journey back to sitting on the sand until the cycle is over.
Some prefer to put on three to four dresses on top of each, the outer one normally black to prevent any stain from showing on their clothes but it will definitely flow on their legs all the way to the ground.
As young girls growing up in a vulnerable pastoralist set up we tried all the above in managing our menstruations. It is not in any way safe for any girl. Period management is very important and affects all girls, from those in school to those looking after animals. Girls need resources and education for managing menstruation. As I work and interact with vulnerable adolescent girls I cannot help but notice their so much need for sanitary materials. Can periods be normalized in all our communities? Can girls/women be empowered on period management? Can we support girls and women get access to Sanitary towels and panties, especially the poor vulnerable ones in the heart of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas?