“A period should end a sentence, not a girls education” – Melissa Berton, 91st Academy Awards Ceremony
There is a tremendous gender-inequality in Kenya. The social stigma surrounding menstruation heavily contributes to continuing this cycle. Girls often cut their education short or miss many days of school. The lack of feminine hygiene supplies leads girls to participate in risky behavior, such as using homemade supplies and engaging in transactional sex, these behaviors are clearly dangerous for the girls. The stigma surrounding menstruation in Kenya continues the cycle of gender-inequality and poverty by not giving access to proper supplies, resulting in girls missing out on education and putting them at risk for both mental and physical health issues.
When girls lack the necessary hygiene supplies, they miss out on education. Seventy percent of schools in rural areas don’t have a sanitary place for girls to change their products. Because women often need to change out sanitary supplies throughout the day, if there is no sanitary place for girls to change supplies out, they are forced to stay home. Additionally, this would be a problem if girls are unprepared and get their period in the middle of a school day and don’t have supplies. Sixty-five percent of girls are unable to afford sanitary products. Women and girls often don’t have control over the household’s finances, so they are unable to prioritize the purchase of sanitary products. This lack results in girls being forced to stay home and miss school. When Huru International started distributing kits containing sanitary products, they found a ninety-five percent decrease in absenteeism.
There is a lot of stigma surrounding menstruation in Kenya. Girls are made to feel disgusting during this time, many choose to stay home while menstruating. A lot of girls are forced to stay home when they are menstruating because of society telling them that they are shameful and disgusting at this time (alternate sentence). Because of the stigmas around menstruation many girls receive little to no education on menstruation and reproduction, leaving them at risk for health issues. This potentially leads to them dropping out of school due to unwanted pregnancies and infections. Because there is such stigma, only fifty percent of girls openly discuss menstruation at home. ii There is often no safe place for girls to receive education regarding menstruation, eighty-eight percent of girls are not comfortable receiving the information from their mother. ii
When girls lack the necessary hygiene supplies, they are forced to go to extreme measures to obtain them, leaving them at risk. One of the extreme measures is that they are forced to make homemade products which are neither sanitary nor safe. Girls will often get infections from their homemade products putting them at an increased risk of cervical cancer. Sometimes girls will trade their food away for supplies resulting in them not getting enough to eat. One of the extreme measures taken is transactional sex, which one in ten girls in Kenya have partaken in to obtain supplies.
The stigma and miseducation surrounding menstruation affects how girls feel about their bodies, possibly resulting in physical and mental unhealthiness. Due to the lack of education about this subject, one in four girls don’t associate menstruation with pregnancy, whereas other girls think they can only get pregnant while menstruating ii leaving both at risk for unplanned pregnancies. Often when girls start getting their periods, they are encouraged to get married, which increases likelihood of dropping out of school. Girls who get their period early are more likely to do worse in school. Another large problem is during menstruation, girls will often face restrictions, limited activities, and even extreme social isolation. Much of the stigma surrounding menstruation communicates to girls that they are disgusting for something they can’t control. This leaves them ashamed of their bodies and embarrassed to go to school.
“Nine out of ten girls who receive a Huru Kit see a reduction in period-related absences” (Huru International) iii. This data shows that by distributing supplies and information to girls that lack them improves girls school attendance. When girls attend school, they are able to get advanced jobs when they grow up and maintain a stable life. This helps break the cycle of poverty and break the cycle of gender-inequality.
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