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Program Targets Male Students for Menstrual Dignity

Male pupils at Naka primary school in Nakuru County join their female counterparts for a talks about menstrual circle.

The visitors, at the school are familiar. Last time, they only gathered girls and ‘empowered’ them. Today, the boys have to join in and are not sure the topic to be discussed suits them.

The red ribbons are distributed to all the pupils in attendance and are told to wear them on their heads.

“Many girls are suffering from menstrual stigma. Studies have established that menstrual stigma is mostly caused by men and the boys should not remain ignorant about menstruation,” said Young African Women Initiative (YAWI) Executive Director Ms Fidelis Karanja, as she opened the forum for discussion.

The talk proceeds, on menstrual cycle, hygiene and health to enable the learners particularly the boys to understand menstruation as a normal bodily function that occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle.

The programme rolled out by YAWI is primarily focusing on empowering male pupils in primary schools in Nakuru to fight menstrual stigma against women.

According to Ms Karanja, the initiative to educate boys was to debunk the myth that menstruation is taboo and provide the pupils with the right information.

“We are involving boys in this conversation as well as having their proactive participation to come up with innovative ideas that will ensure dignified menstruation experiences,” she said.

Speaking at Naka Primary School during an advocacy program to fight menstrual stigma organized for over 200 pupils, Ms Karanja observed that social stigma and taboos continue to deny millions of women, the right to manage their menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy way, despite it being a natural process.

The Executive Director cited a case in 2019 where a schoolgirl on her menses committed suicide after being called dirty and sent home by her teacher.

She noted that lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, sanitation infrastructure such as private toilets, hand washing facilities and menstrual hygiene education can prevent women and girls from reaching their full potential in the classroom, in the workplace, and at home.

During the occasion YAWI donated over 500 sanitary pads that were given to both girls and boys with the latter being asked to forward the donations to their sisters, relatives or neighbours.

“A major contributor to this problem is the fact that it is culturally assumed that men and boys cannot, and should not, talk about women’s menstruation. The purely natural process is branded with terms like ‘mambo ya wanawake’, ‘women’s secrets’ and ‘that time of the month’. This is despite the fact that most of these men live with women in their homes, and are even aware when it is ‘that time of the month,” she added

The pupils were also taught on proper ways of handling sanitary pads when put on, proper ways of disposal, and checking the quality of sanitary pads.

Ms Karanja pointed out that menstruation is a good indicator of female fertility and therefore men and boys need to support the natural bodily function if we’re looking forward to seeing generations in future.

Naka Primary School head teacher Mr Joseph Salano said there is need for increased government funding for free sanitary pads and provision of sufficient female hygiene products in all public schools.

Mr Salano suggested that state, non-state actors and individuals collaborate to raise awareness of menstrual hygiene issues and support Kenyan women and girls in realizing their reproductive rights.

According to the United Nations, one in 10 African schoolgirls misses school during their menstruation, and many of them, studies show, have ended up dropping out of school altogether after lagging behind month in month out.

According to government data, only an estimated 46 per cent of women and girls in rural areas and 65 per cent in urban areas have access to and use disposable pads. Many use toilet paper, pieces of blanket or cloth, or natural materials to handle their menstruation.

Apart from dropping out of school, girls and women have endured poor hygiene, urinary tract and vaginal infections, early pregnancies and STIs. The victims often feel unwanted.

By Anne Sabuni

 

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