In early February, more than 400 pupils and community members of rural North Kamagambo, Kenya, gathered at Kadianga Primary School for the launch of Lwala Community Alliance’s eReader pilot project. Among them was Fred Ochieng Ouko, a 12-year-old boy in Class 6 at Kadianga Primary. Fred is the sixth born in a family of nine [...]
Our Executive Director Ash Rogers is an advocate for girls and women in the Lwala community, and today (May 28) on Menstrual Hygiene Day, we respond with a renewed sense of urgency to make sure girls and women around the world have access to feminine hygiene products.
Upon meeting a a girl from East Africa (let’s call her Sara), she told me, “I curse the day I was born a girl.” Why? Sara was born the eldest of 5 children, her father died last year, and her mother is HIV positive. There is no money for clothes or shoes or school supplies. Also, there is no money for sanitary pads.
Sara is not alone.
When resources are lacking, parents not only have no funds for feminine hygiene products but are also less likely to invest in girls’ education than boys. This combination results in girls often dropping out of school at a young age. In Migori County, where Lwala is located, out of 100 girls, only 60 will complete 8th grade and only 17 will complete high school – the median age for school dropout among girls is Grade 6.
At Lwala, we want to remove any barrier that might prevent a girl from attending school and completing her education. To do this, we provide girls in 6th through 8th grade with pad kits, which include five reusable pads made by our New Vision Women’s Sewing Cooperative, soap, three pairs of underwear, and information on menstruation and sexual and reproductive health. These kits have been provided through our partnerships with Johnson & Johnson, Imago Dei Fund and Segal Family Foundation. In addition to pads kits, girls are also provided school uniforms through our partnership with Harpeth Hall School.
As almost any woman can attest, feminine hygiene products are something you take for granted, that is, until the moment you need them and don’t have them. In East Africa, women and girls who can’t afford expensive disposable pads, use old rags, newspaper, or mud to manage menstruation. For a young girl in East Africa this lack of access is not only uncomfortable, undignified, and unhygienic – it also keeps her from school several days a month and is one of the main reasons girls in Kenya drop out of secondary school at a much higher rate than boys. Studies estimate that in Kenya alone girls miss nearly 5 days of school each month because of their periods.
The truth is economic, social, and health conditions are worse for poor girls in East Africa, than just about everywhere else.
“Because of the hardship some parents are going through, they are unable to buy even one pair of underwear for their daughter,” said Cindy Atieno, an 8th grader in the Lwala community. “This makes the daughter vulnerable to seek assistance from other sources like motorbike riders, who could give 50 cents for either a pair of underwear or a sanitary pad. Later the girl pays him by having sex in exchange.”
Situations like this leave girls highly vulnerable to unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. But there is hope, and girls in Lwala are being empowered with an alternative solution.
After receiving her pad kit, Diana Achieng Mboya, an 8th grader in the Lwala community, shared how it made her feel confident. “I am sure of 100% school attendance, because there will be no more shame of blood staining my uniform while in school. I would like to become a doctor and that is why I want to get good marks to join secondary school and later proceed to university. As a doctor, I will help young girls in my community realize their dreams and also fight for human rights. Thank you for giving girls the opportunity to follow theirs dreams.”
However, products are just one step. They have to be met with empowerment-based initiatives that offer opportunities for girls to access education, connect with powerful female role-models, learn about their rights, get information about and access to reproductive healthcare, lead social movements, start businesses and express all the reasons they have to be proud. And, Lwala is developing models to do just that through our Youth Peer Providers program, girls mentoring, and Better Breaks activities.
An investment in girls provides them with dignity rather than shame and power rather than poverty, and Lwala is investing in girls and showing them that it is a blessing, not a curse, to have been born a girl. #menstruationmatters