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NAIROBI, Kenya – Research shows that 6 out of 10 girls in Kenya have never heard about menstruation until their first period, and 65 percent of menstruating girls and women in the nation cannot sustainably access sanitary pads.
Menstruation is rarely spoken in daily life and many girls struggle with their periods each month. The silence around menstruation means girls are often unprepared for their periods and don’t know how to adequately manage them, or access pads.
But more than this, when they are going through these difficulties, there is no one they can ask for help. They suffer in silence, feeling ashamed.
Against such stark realities, concerned partners are seizing the opportunity at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Nairobi to advocate for hundreds of millions of menstruators and put the Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) agenda front and center.
“Women and girls are limited from reaching their full potential because of menstruation related issues. The fact that there are a lot of taboos and stigmas associated with menstruation compounds their problems,” said Virginia Kamowa, technical expert on menstrual hygiene management at WSSCC in an interview.
WSSCC, under the African Coalition on MHM that includes WASH United, UNFPA, Water Aid, The Case for Her and REJEA, will be co-hosting two events with the Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collectives at the ICPD 25 in Nairobi to raise profile of menstrual heath at the Summit.
A pre-event on 11 November at the Serena Hotel will look at policy issues and panel discussions on MHH, and a break-away session at KICC on 12 November titled “Menarche to Menopause.”
The ICPD 25 summit, scheduled between 12 and 14 November, brings together more than 6,000 high-level delegates including heads of states, legislators, business leaders, civil society, grassroot organizations and the youth, to mobilize the political will and financial commitments to implement the ICPD Programme of Action.
These commitments will be centered on sexual and reproductive health issues including achieving zero unmet need for family planning information and services, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
Amidst these, WSSCC will be pushing for an urgent conversation that will champion and support inclusion of Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) in the ICPD 25 commitments.
“I am hoping that the ICPD commitments will integrate menstrual health and hygiene as it relates to the ICPD 25 themes especially those related to sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence and ending harmful practices,” said Kamowa.
Inadequate knowledge on sexual and reproductive health among adolescents has meant that over 3.9 million school going girls aged between 15 and 19 undergo unsafe abortions annually, according to the World Health Organization.
The statistic is bleak when narrowed down to developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa where more than 60 percent of adolescent men and women believed common misperceptions or had poor knowledge about the prevention of unintended pregnancy and HIV; one-third or more did not know of a source for contraceptives.
Each year, there are an estimated 2.7 million unintended pregnancies among adolescent women living in South Central and Southeast Asia, 2.2 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 1.2 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to WHO.
MHH stands in the middle of all these as it premises to adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health.
“Knowing about their bodies and fertility and managing their menstrual hygiene is an empowering skill that would help many navigate sexuality and reproduction with the right information and confidence,” Kamowa said.
MHH can be an entry point to sexual and reproductive health – helping to break the silence while increasing knowledge, understanding, and awareness of their bodies as a stepping stone for healthy practices.
WSSCC has also produced a video, which will be screened on Tuesday, to showcase what period poverty is about and why confronting stigma and taboos around menstruation is everyone's responsibility.