ISSUES SURROUNDING MENSTRUATION IN RURAL AREAS
I have worked with Mfariji Africa as a volunteer for the last few months and I have felt very touched by Mfariji Africa’s mission and proud to be part of Mfariji’s cause. Growing up in an urban area in Kenya, not a thought crossed my mind of how severe issues surrounding menstruation in marginalized rural areas are. It’s easy to assume so much and take much for granted like owning underwear, having access to soap, toilet paper, pads and tampons, availability of water and clean washrooms. I would like to explain the situation faced by girls in marginalized rural areas when it’s that time of the month.
The onset of menstruation is considered as a landmark in the growth and development of an adolescent girl into womanhood. It’s a normal physiological process for females. For most girls, the average age for the onset of menstruation is 13 years though the range varies between 11 to 19 years. Most girls have inter-menstrual interval of 28 – 35 days and duration of menstrual flow of 3 days though the range varies between 2-7 days. However, the sad thing is, sometimes it is considered as unclean phenomenon and a burden in the society and has ended up being an issue bringing a lot of stigma. There are many issues surrounding menstruation, lack of washrooms, lack of sanitary pads, lack of clean water and soap, bullying by peers but mostly lack of information that could help eradicate the stigma and promote good healthy hygiene practices.
Issues surrounding menstruation are not even discussed in hushed tones amongst many women thus the rise of unsatisfactory hygiene practices during menstruation.
In marginalized rural areas in Kenya, the situation is dire compared to urban areas. Traditional beliefs, misconceptions, and restrictions regarding menstruation are rampant in these marginalized rural areas putting the girls and even their mothers at risks of infections. Many myths are circulated leading to stigma, segregation during menstruation, and have left women treated like farm animals. Surveys have shown that a majority of women in rural areas use homemade sanitary pads, reuse the same in the subsequent period and fail to practice satisfactory cleaning practices. Living in families that earn 100 shillings a day and even less in these areas means commercial sanitary products are not even dreamed off and often these women have no knowledge that they even exist, thus the rise of crude methods to ‘survive that time of the month’. With no panties, no sanitary towels and barely clean water and soap to clean themselves, the solutions are desperate. Some stuff their underwear with wool, some use old rags, some use feathers, some use goat skin, some pieces of old mattresses, some leaves and a majority opt to stay away from school just because they cannot afford sanitary towels. This Majority will miss classes for 4 days in a month when menstruating. That translates to 13 days (2 weeks) per term and 6 weeks in a year of missed learning days. The girls lag behind and this hinders the goals to achieve universal primary completion by the end of a year.
I would like to commend the work done by Mfariji Africa as a whole together; the teams, sponsors, partners and of course, the selfless volunteers. I can truly attest to the fact that indeed they improve the lives of Kenyan girls. The provision of Sanitary towels goes a long way in helping these girls to stay in school, avoid missing classes and complete their education. Mostly the personalized interactive mentoring sessions are sensational! The girls are able to interact freely, ask questions and get clarification on menstrual health and hygiene; they get to learn how to attach pads to the underwear and how to stay clean and safe from infections. The most beautiful thing is seeing how these girls’ faces light up when they get supplies of sanitary towels and underwear. I have learnt firsthand the importance of empowering these girls. It builds the foundation for generations to come, and brings forth a generation of well educated, knowledgeable women and women leaders.
I am honestly proud to be part of this cause and would like to urge all to partake in it and be the reason a girl somewhere in rural Kenya will smile today.