Despite the onset of menstruation being an important milestone in the transition from childhood to adulthood, it is often viewed as a major concern.
In Kenya for example, millions of girls who have reached puberty are highly dis-empowered due to lack of access to sanitary wear. Many adolescent girls from disadvantaged families cannot afford to buy sanitary towels, and opt to using insanitary methods.
Girls who cannot afford sanitary pads resort to crude and unhygienic methods, including using old pieces of mattresses, old cloth, or inserting cotton wool into their uterus to try to block the flow. In Kenya’s sprawling urban slums, girls collect used pads from garbage dumps, and wash them for their own use, resulting in serious health complications.
Millions of girls in Kenya are at risk of dropping out of school at the onset of menstruation. According to a study by the Ministry of Education, Kenyan adolescent girls miss approximately 3.5 million learning days per month during their menstrual cycle. This hinders their ability to compete in the classroom, leads to low self-esteem, higher drop-out rates and, in some regions, makes them vulnerable to early marriage. Along with the lost learning days, girls lose self-confidence, and the opportunity of achieving their potential diminishes further each month.
Limited access to safe, affordable, convenient and hygienic methods for managing menstruation has far-reaching implications for the rights and physical, social and mental well being of adolescent girls. It not only undermines sexual and reproductive health and well being but has been shown to restrict girls’ access to education when they miss school due to lack of proper ways of managing their menstruation. This has an impact on their performance and could ultimately lead to some dropping out of school.
Presently, women comprise the majority of illiterate adult Kenyans at 58 per cent. Appreciably, this is as a result of their inability to complete school for many of the reasons associated with sexual and reproductive health.
The second and third Millennium Development Goals (MDG2&3), “achieve universal primary education”, and “promote gender equality and empowerment,” are not only key development goal in their own right, but also an important means to achieving all MDGs. It is imperative that Kenya speeds up her efforts and take additional action to ensure that the millions of girls affected by the lack of education benefit from the basic promises of the MDGs. Action needs to be taken to address the underlying causes that restrict women’s economic opportunities.