By Kevin Mwanza and Francesca Nava
NAIROBI, Kenya – As the Government of Kenya approved the National Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy on 21 November to scale up its effort to provide more support for girls and women, one man in the nation’s capital Nairobi stresses boys and men equally need to have an accurate understanding of menstruation as a “normal biological process.”
Mr Daniel Karanja, who heads a community organization and is a member of WSSCC, shared his response to why menstruation is everyone’s responsibility.
WSSCC: You are often called a champion for Menstrual Health and Hygiene. What do you exactly do in your own capacity?
Mr Daniel Karanja, Founding Director of Community Socioeconomic Development Initiatives (COSEDI): At COSEDI, we take pride in raising our voices in support of Menstrual Health and Hygiene. That means that we have been carrying out outreach activities in schools and prisons. Over there, we interact with women and girls and we encourage them to embrace menstruation with dignity.
We have a responsibility to “leave no one behind.” In particular, our organization is championing this cause by involving men and boys in the conversation as well as having their proactive participation in coming up with innovative ideas that will ensure dignified menstruation experiences while addressing other reproductive rights including female genital mutilation, teenage pregnancy and child marriage using MHH as an entry strategy.
Our involvement in Menstrual Health and Hygiene is key to moving this advocacy forward.
WSSCC: You have been advocating that men also have a role to play in your MHH advocacy campaigns. How is your engagement with men going?
Mr Karanja: We have faced challenges especially in cultural-sensitive communities where men are not even allowed to talk about sanitary pads. Some people have asked me, “What business do you have talking about menstruation as a man?” And I would respond, “Men play a significant supportive role.” I have been insisting that the perceptions about male involvement in menstrual matters must change because menstruation is not just a female affair.
WSSCC: I understand that the involvement of men in advocating for Menstrual Health and Hygiene has yielded some positive results?
Mr Karanja: In Kenya, we are making strides and right now more men are accepting to offer support. We want to come out with one voice, saying, “Menstruation is normal and women and girls should take pride in it.”
Today, I’m happy that the Kenyan government has an MHH strategy put in place and approved a national policy recognizing that needs of menstruators in the country. It’s great that the government acknowledged that MHH is an issue that needs attention.
WSSCC: Can you tell us more about the first time that piqued your interest in menstrual matters?
Mr Karanja: My involvement in MHH started in 2009 when I worked as an actor. One day, I was at the back of the stage when one of our colleagues suffered severe abdominal cramps. I was confused, I didn’t know where to start and what to do. This was the first time I witnessed a woman in such a state.
We did not have any money on us, so together with a male friend we started “pad hunting.” Looking for shops that had female shopkeepers who would easily empathize with our situation. We were lucky enough to find this lady who gave us a few packs of disposable sanitary pads.
I remember this girl weeping uncontrollably when we came back and handed her the pads, especially knowing that we must have asked someone to help us. So, that episode was the “genesis” of my involvement in MHH. I started assisting women and girls within my circle to manage menstruation.
WSSCC: What are the obstacles to addressing Menstrual Health and Hygiene in Kenya?
Mr Karanja: Silence is a major obstacle because menstruation is still considered a taboo subject. For instance, girls have often shied away from the “menstruation rooms or clubs” because of the stigma attached to these spaces.
Culturally, there are beliefs around menstruation that promote discrimination and shame. This silence explains why 6 out of 10 girls in Kenya have never heard about menstruation until their first period. Moreover, 65 percent of menstruating girls and women in the nation cannot sustainably access sanitary pads.
WSSCC: Against this keep-quiet culture, you are doing an activity, called “the MHH lab.” Can you tell us what this is about?
Mr Karanja: The MHH lab is actually a safe space where women and girls are able to talk about menstruation freely. So, the MHH lab provides an opportunity to voice some of the challenges and remedies that girls and women experience during menstruation. At the end of the lab sessions, women and girls make a period bracelet.
This activity is a “conversation starter” that also men can support. Men do not menstruate, but it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that our women, sisters, and mothers are able to experience menstruation with dignity.
Our collective pledge states that “I will break the silence in menstruation, I will not feel shy, I will take pride.” This pledge is very important in ensuring that people can freely talk about menstruation.
WSSCC: Going forward, is the future of menstruators in Kenya hopeful?
Mr Karanja: I do think it’s hopeful, but we still have a lot to do for girls and women. I want to achieve a future where Menstrual Health and Hygiene impacts health and education outcomes through increased menstrual accessibility, menstrual availability and menstrual information.
This will help us to allocate resources appropriately and have normal conversations around menstruation, ending period shaming.
We need to focus on capacity building and training stakeholders and partners on a holistic approach to MHH and on how to best integrate MHH in their WASH programs.
In this regard, WSSCC has played a key role. We all need to keep calling out for increased investments and financial commitments by governments and other stakeholders for the future of menstruators.
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