Proper menstrual health and hygiene is crucial for the promotion of good health and well-being among women and girls worldwide. Poor menstrual hygiene has been linked to reproductive health risks that can lead to infection and often times infertility. Cultural taboos, norms, and superstitions associated with menstruation cause stigma and shame among women and adolescent girls. This has significant impact on the lives of vulnerable women and girls, who are frequently forced to use unhygienic alternatives such as old pieces of clothing as sanitary pads.
This causes discomfort and increases the risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections because they are frequently washed without soap and dried indoors due to shame around menstruation. Additionally, the lack of adequate water, compounded by poor or no information on proper hygiene and sanitation robs the girls and women dignified and proper menstruation hygiene practices and products. These challenges particularly among school-going girls lead to low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and self-worth, and further compromises their education as they are forced to miss school for some days during their monthly period.
Khadija is a 14-year-old teenage girl living in Alungu Village in Mandera County in Northern Kenya and attends the local primary school. Khadija and her family are among the millions of Mandera residents experiencing the acute water shortage attributed to the drought and poor rainfall in the area. In addition to the challenges of the drought and lack of water, Khadija, like many other teenage girls her age in the village, she often has challenges during her menstruation.
The Nomadic Assistance For Peace and Development (NAPAD) in partnership with Oxfam Kenya and the ASAL Humanitarian Network (AHN) is implementing a Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project in Alungu Village to improve the sanitation and hygiene standards for vulnerable households in the Lafey Sub-County, in Mandera County. This initiative has provided dignity kits for healthy and dignified menstrual hygiene management among the adolescent girls in the area. Khadija and many other teenage girls in Alungu village have been beneficiaries of this initiative.
In addition to improving the health and sanitation, the project also provided 100 vulnerable households with WASH non-food items (NFIs) which include jerrycans and buckets to collect and safely store water for household use, aqua tabs, soap. The project is also engaging the community in door-to-door hygiene and sanitation conversations through community health promoters. The community health promoters are teaching families how to use the aqua tabs, jerrycans and buckets in safe water storage, the importance of purifying drinking water, safe water handling, the importance of hand hygiene, and how to maintain hygiene and sanitation to prevent water-borne diseases and proper menstrual hygiene management.
Khadija and her mother recently met with a staff member from Nomadic Assistance For Peace and Development (NAPAD) to share their experience. She vividly remembers the first time she got her period was on her way to school and she had to run back home to seek help from her mother. Her mother showed her how to use a piece of cloth and that is what she has used until recently.
“I felt disgraced to be a girl and it felt like it was a curse from Allah. I was so scared and helpless, I will never forget that experience"
She recalls with much pain and embarrassment. Khadija is just one example of the many adolescent girls and women in Mandera county, who continue to face menstruation management challenges as they lack adequate knowledge on proper menstrual health and hygiene, as well as a lack of the appropriate menstrual hygiene kits.
Khadija and several other girls her age are beneficiaries of the dignity kits and have also received talks on proper menstrual hygiene from female community health workers. The teenage girls no longer have to miss school for several days each month. They can confidently work towards their educational goals and actively participate in their chores at home. Mothers and older women in the community can now openly hold conversations with their daughters and other women about menstrual and reproductive health. This will go a long way in normalising menstruation and reducing the cultural stigma around it. The women and girls now understand the importance of proper menstrual hygiene.
“I can now concentrate in class, I find no reason to miss school during my periods, I can confidently stand in front of my classmates, and I can do all of this without thinking of my period.” Khadija confidently says
Khadija is now a peer hygiene educator among her friends, particularly in Duksi classes. She teaches them the importance of maintaining good hygiene, how to use sanitary pads, and breaks down myths and misconceptions about menstruation. She is passionate about this because she gets to help other girls.
“I have now taken it upon myself to help other girls in my Duksi experiencing their first menstrual period. Now I know that there is no need to be ashamed of it.” she adds.
There has been much effort from NAPAD in partnership with Oxfam in Kenya and the ASAL Humanitarian Network (AHN) to ensure that despite the biting drought, the dignity and health of the adolescent girls is maintained. However, with the drought crisis persisting in Mandera as with other ASAL counties, there is a need for continued support with life-saving WASH interventions such as increasing the access to safe, sufficient, and affordable drinking water, provision of NFIs and door-to-door hygiene and sanitation promotion to reach the most at-risk persons.
Story by Nomadic Assistance For Peace and Development (NAPAD)
Edited by ASAL Humantarian Network
“I can now concentrate in class, I find no reason to miss school during my periods, I can confidently stand in front of my classmates, and I can do all of this without thinking of my period”