By Kevin Mwanza
KIISI, Kenya – A song in praise of menstruation breaks the code of silence around menstruation in Kenya, where many girls are still missing school while they are menstruating, thousands of others are unable to afford health products, and a large percentage of girls are misinformed about their own biology.
“This day we bring to light that which was a secret. I would not exist without menstruation,” said Kamba Nane, one of the country’s local male musicians, in his song which inspires action on menstrual hygiene management.
The song performed on Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019, in Kenya’s Kiisi county triggered a harmonious dance from representatives from the Kenya Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Program (K-SHIP), WSSCC’s National Coordinator in Kenya and AMREF Health Africa.
The artist played the Obokano instrument, setting the tune for the key voices and calls to actions from decision-makers, lawmakers, and community members most of whom understood the urgent need to promote good menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) for all women and girls in schools.
According to a World Bank study, menstruation-related taboos, coupled with an overarching culture of silence around the topic in many societies around the world, hinder women and girls’ ability to participate completely and fairly in society, undermining their overall social status and self-esteem.
A growing body of evidence indicates that the inability of girls to control their menstrual hygiene in schools contributes to school absenteeism, which in effect has severe economic costs for their lives and the country, according to the World Bank report 2018.
Health director of Gishu County, Dr. Reuben Korir, said it was vital to encourage open menstrual dialogue and noted that “encouraging girls to logically challenge age-old myths and traditions” was essential. He stressed the need for increased male participation in menstrual hygiene and health talks.
“Young men and boys need to be sensitized in order to encourage them in their lives to extend socio-cultural help to girls,” Dr. Korrir said.
A radio talk show was arranged in Narouk County to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene and health. Daniel Sironka, County Public Nutrition Officer, supported by a representative from the Ministry of Education, called for improved availability and accessibility of sanitary pads.
Teresia Kagendo, one of the menstrual hygiene training instructors, appeared on a local television station in Embu County, and said menstrual safety, hygiene, and dignity required to be preserved.
The significant highlight of the menstrual hygiene celebrations in Kenya was the distribution of medical products and pad kits. At the Noonkopir Primary School in Kajiado County, the County First Ladies Association (CFLA) launched and promoted an initial “dignity pack” for women.
As part of the campaign, the boys were given separate dignity kits with boxers and soap to help them improve their hygiene, while in Migori County, the organizers gave the first lady of the county the opportunity to speak to the deaf at Kuja school.
Menstrual Hygiene Day is an annual awareness day on 28 May to help break the silence and raise awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management plays in helping women and girls to reach their full potential.
Across Kenya, politicians, civil society activists and advocates in the WASH sector are becoming increasingly vocal about why menstrual silence needs to be broken and why healthy and hygienic menstrual waste management needs to be promoted, particularly in schools where teachers have an opportunity to prepare girls for their first menstruation.
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