OvaryAction: Menstrual Health Day
The world will be celebrating Menstrual Hygiene/ Health Day (MHD) which occurs every year on 28th May. The day highlights; solutions to address the challenges women and girls face during their period cycle, the importance of good menstrual health management with the aim to benefit bleeding persons worldwide. MHD is significant to everyone in the world, including men.
According to Medline Plus menstruation ‘is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle. Every month, your body prepares for pregnancy. If no pregnancy occurs, the uterus, or womb, sheds its lining. The menstrual blood is partly blood and partly tissue from inside the uterus. It passes out of the body through the vagina’.
Menstruation has never been an easy discussion to have with family members or strangers because it is often associated with shame and uncleanness. Case in point, when you buy sanitary towels in some Kenyan supermarkets or shops they will be wrapped in newspapers so that no one sees what you are buying.
Across the world we all have different terms for menstruation, such as; periods, red robot, flowing, attending, rolling, menses and closer to home mashiro (Swahili slang).
Menstrual Health Management
Menstrual health is managed through the use of sanitary products; the most commonly used in the world are pads and tampons while menstrual cups entered the market recently.
Sanitary products have evolved over the years, in the ancient days, women used pads made of wool, rabbit fur, sea sponge, cotton, rags, grass; and tampons made from softened papyrus, or bits of wood with lint wrapped. My mum and aunties who were raised in the village explained to me how they used; pieces of cloth, rags or mattress sponge/ stuffings during their period cycle. This is because cotton wool and pads were not accessible or affordable.
Women and girls can manage their menstrual health by;
- Washing their hands with water and soap before and after changing their sanitary products.
- Showering at least once a day.
- Changing sanitary products regularly.
- Using good sanitary products.
- Wearing clean underwear and changing it every day.
- Cleaning the vaginal area (from front to back) using warm water ONLY regularly, after each use of the toilet and when showering. After washing vaginal area pat it dry.
Without proper menstrual health management women and girls are at risk of getting; skin diseases (rashes, redness and a burning sensation of the vulva region), Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), Reproductive Tract Infection (RTIs), infertility due to untreated RTIs, Cervical Cancers, miscarriages and stillbirths and ectopic pregnancy.
Menstrual Health Management in Kenya
In Kenya and other developing countries, women and girls face major challenges during their menstruation cycle such as lack of access to;
- Quality, low-cost sanitary products,
- Information on puberty and menstrual health management
- Proper water and sanitation facilities during their period.
A landscape analysis of menstrual health in Kenya done by FSG found that 65% of Kenyan women and girls cannot afford sanitary products such as pads or tampons, which approximately cost between 50–600 Kenya shillings; depending on the brand. Usually, a packet of pads or tampons is only enough for one period per cycle. This means women and girls have to spend an average of around 75 Kenya shillings per month for pads or tampons. This cost for a woman who lives under a dollar a day or comes from the rural areas or urban informal settlements is quite high, especially if the household has more than one woman or girl.
Often, the women and girls are forced to use homemade products during their periods such as; pads made from socks, tissue, cotton clothes, cotton wool, rags, mattress sponge or stuffings, or nothing at all. These methods are usually not hygienic or effective and can lead to leakages, infections, and embarrassment. The shame that comes with menstrual health leads; girls to miss out or drop out of school and for women; to miss out on their daily activities such as work.
Nationally, 78.4% of households in the country use toilets with no place for washing hands. Now, imagine what Kenyan women and girls go through when it comes to changing their bought, reusable or homemade pads but have no access to clean water or proper sanitation facilities.
The Kenyan government has put in efforts to help women and girls manage their menstrual health. They have removed taxes on the raw materials used to make sanitary products and passed the Basic Education Amendment Act 2017, which commits
‘to provide free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl child registered and enrolled in a public basic education institution who has reached puberty and provide a safe and environmentally sound mechanism for disposal of the sanitary towels’.
Even with these efforts in place, sanitary products are still a luxury for most women who live below a dollar a day or live in rural parts of Kenya. Menstrual health is also more than just the products women use, it should be accompanied by proper sanitation facilities and access to clean water.
The government needs to put in more efforts to ensure all women and girls in Kenya have access to; education on puberty and menstrual health management, quality, low-cost sanitary products, clean water, and sanitation facilities. These efforts will help boost the socio-economic development of women in the country and will bring the country closer to realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); on good health & well being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6) and reduced inequalities (SDG 10).