By Fridah Okachi
Poverty and the high cost of sanitary towels have become major factors preventing girls in the slums of Gatina from accessing proper menstrual hygiene management.
At a school in Gatina, the school director faces significant challenges in supporting students who are struggling with this issue. One particular case involves a grade four pupil who experiences menstruation twice a month. The director explains that this situation affects the student’s education as the class teacher has to devote extra attention to her during those six days.
“We have tried advising the parents to keep the girl at home during her menstrual period, but unfortunately, they have chosen to ignore our advice. She started menstruating in grade four, which is quite early. This is not a common occurrence, so as a school, we provide her with pads. Her class teacher helps her change the pads four times a day because she doesn’t fully understand what is happening,” explains the school director.
Just two hundred meters away, there is another school where most of the students are sponsored by a well-wisher. Here, I spoke to two grade seven pupils. Christine, aged 13, says that she often relies on borrowing sanitary towels from friends since her mother cannot afford to buy them.
“I am aware of my menstrual cycle, and when I realize that my period is approaching, I become anxious. My mother works as a casual laborer and cannot afford to buy sanitary towels for both of us. We depend on friends. If my friends don’t have any, I approach my class teacher, who helps me with three pieces that I use during those days,” shares Christine.
On the other hand, Wanjiku tells me about the struggles one of her friends faces at school. “When she gets her period, she ties her sweater around her waist and sits like that until the end of the day,” Wanjiku explains.
“In the last week of the month, I meet with my female teachers to brainstorm solutions. We are located in the slums, and many families cannot spare fifty shillings for sanitary pads. Additionally, some girls start menstruating while at school,” adds Wanjiku.
Mjomba Mwikali, a mother of three girls working as a domestic manager in Kileleshwa, earns a meager monthly salary of eight thousand shillings. Mwikali, who lives in a small aluminum house in Gatina and pays a rent of three thousand shillings, finds it difficult to allocate enough money for food and school fees, let alone buy sufficient sanitary towels for her daughters. She says that she resorts to using tissue paper herself and stays at home for the four days of her period.
Jeremy, a 21-year-old male who takes care of his five siblings (two girls aged 14 and 15, and three boys) in the absence of their mother, finds it challenging to afford sanitary pads for his sisters. Jeremy, who lacks a stable job, encourages his sisters to stay at home during their menstrual days to avoid embarrassment.
In an effort to address this issue, Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba launched the provision of free sanitary towels bill and the Glo’s Pad Bank initiative. She believes these steps will contribute to the elimination of period poverty, emphasizing that no woman or girl should struggle to afford menstrual hygiene products.
Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja has also pledged his personal donation and committed to allocating resources in the County budget to ensure that girls in schools and informal settlements receive sanitary towels every month.