Kenya: Volunteer Helping MAA Girls 'Bleed With Pride'

Milcah Hadida training girls on menstrual hygiene.

It is lunch break at Mara Girls' Leadership Primary School, in Talek Trading Centre, Narok West Sub-county. Janet Lepore is enjoying a quick skip of the rope with her friends before the bell rings for the afternoon classes.

But Lepore, 17, a Class Seven pupil will not be attending normal classes this afternoon as she has lessons on Menstrual Health Management (MHM) and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR).

With her schoolmates in Talek area near the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, they assemble at the school dining hall.

Lepore says she started getting her periods last year and has struggled to get sanitary pads. Even though the government recently promised to supply some through the schools, it remains a mirage.

"I have always had a heavy flow and the pads I was given at school could only be enough for a day or two, before I resort to other means like old rags when my parents do not have money to buy me another packet. But with the reusable pads, I have just received, I can put more liners to absorb the bleeding," Lepore explains.

Pastoral community

Fortunately, she is among the more than 1,000 teenage girls in the pastoral community whose lives are changing through these hygiene lessons. They can now 'bleed with pride', without stigma.

Taking them through the MHM classes is Dr Madhvi Dalal, a volunteer who also distributes the reusable sanitary towels to girls who can't afford pads.

Dr Dalal, a Yoga dance instructor and a professional pharmacist, is visiting schools in the semi-arid areas to uplift girls through improved tools for menstruation and keep them in school.

During one of the lessons two Saturdays ago, the girls were taught on how to take control of their sex life and "Know their rights to say no to sexual intercourse while still young and learn self defence mechanisms."

The sessions included the distribution of reusable pads, soap, underwear and Covid-19 protection masks to more than 50 girls from the Maasai community.

"Menstruation stigma persists within the pastoral community due to cultural practices whilst in others, hygiene products are so heavily taxed as to render them inaccessible for some girls, and that is why I have come in to help," said Ms Dalal.

Sex for pads

According to Ms Sara Siringa, a teacher in the school, the venture aims at reducing absenteeism and improve girls' academic performance.

The head of discipline in the school who also was present during the lessons, said the program targets teenage girls in the interior parts of the county.

She said girls suffer from low self-esteem during menstruation, which affects their relationship with others. But with private sector and other stakeholders intervening, the situation is bound to improve, she noted.

Dr Dalal said the venture is also meant to end the 'sex for pads' trend where young girls who cannot afford the precious commodity offer sexual favours to their peers, boda boda riders or old men, in exchange for money to buy pads.

Together with her team, Dr Dalal has helped more than 10,000 girls in Kenya in the last two years.

Reusable sanitary pads

"We have a company Padmad Madhvi Dalal that supports the reusable sanitary pads program together with other partners, to keep girls in school," she said.

She noted that disposable menstruation supplies are often too expensive for families, forcing many young women to use unhygienic alternatives such as old clothes or go without sanitary pads altogether.

The new pads come from a women's organization in Uasin Gishu County, Women Development Centre (Wodec) that decided last year, to start making reusable sanitary towels from locally available materials.

Wodec is among non-profit groups responding to this issue that marginalizes many women and girls; two-thirds of Kenyan women can't afford sanitary products.

Periods cause one in 10 girls to miss five per cent of school every month, posing a threat to their performance and overall success, according to a recent report by Unesco.

"Under the spirit of 'Buy Kenya, Build Kenya' and 'By Women, For Women', we are making this a success by helping teenage girls realise their dreams" said Dr Dalal, noting that the pads are more cost effective than disposable pads in the long run.

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