Period poverty in Kenya

Menstrual health is fundamental in building women’s agency

Eeva Mäkinen, August 2021

Period poverty

Menstrual health, gender equality and poverty are strongly connected. Inadequate menstrual hygiene affects populations in the Global South, and women living in poverty are especially vulnerable.

Poverty affects 65% of Kenyan women who can’t afford basic sanitary pads. Lack of water sanitation services increase the risk of reproductive infections. Globally, 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation services, such as handwashing facilities with water and soap at home. This poverty has been referred to as “period poverty”; when girls lack the resources to meet basic menstruation needs. 

Period poverty means inadequate sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilet facilities, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management. This results in women and girls often having to rely on men for sanitary products through transactional sex, which in turn strengthens unequal gender relations and erodes their sense of agency. 

Tampons and pads are not a luxury. The cultural taboo attached to menstruation,  shortage of resources and menstrual education prevent women from going to school and public spaces. These can lead to serious health problems and shame that disable girls from having control over their lives and bodies.

Femcorner Industries produces reusable menstrual products in Migori County, Kenya. Image by Femcorner Industries. 

Menstruation is stigmatized

Menstruation is a normal part of life for healthy women and girls. Yet, menstruation is stigmatized all over the world, considered as something dirty and shameful to hide from public. These social and cultural misconceptions are underlied by the sexualization of girls’ transition into women, as “becoming of age”. 

Period shame, like all shame, causes negative effects on girls’ sense of self. It results in denying a core, natural part of themselves. This powerlessness over their body and life can distort girls’ outlook on how they believe they can manage life’s challenges independently. 

Ways forward?

Girls should be encouraged to celebrate their healthy bodies and carry them with confidence. In order to normalize menstruation, it is necessary to make it visible rather than something to hide. This is the starting point for collective cultural change; by making menstruation normal and safe, the possibility for girls and their communities to start thinking differently is created. 

On an institutional level, sufficient menstrual health management (MHM) is fundamental to addressing period shame and poverty, sexual issues, early childhood marriages, female genital mutilation (FGM) and reproductive health topics, such as reproductive rights, transactional sex, and teenage pregnancy prevention. Menstrual equity policy must be enforced to make menstrual products, sanitation and hygiene easily accessible.

Reusable menstrual pad is an affordable and ecological option. Local production also supports women’s entrepreneurship. Image by Femcorner Industries

Lightup Impact builds a network to support menstrual health

Lightup Impact member organizations work with women’s health in Kenya. Our network of founders and experts are driven by a passion to fight inequalities in health and gender. Many of our member organizations advocate menstrual health; raise period awareness, support girls’ menstrual education, and provide sanitary pads. Learn more about work with menstrual health in the Lightup Impact network from resources below. 

WA-WA Kenya supports women making reusable menstrual pads in Lake Victoria, Kenya. Photo by WA WA Kenya. 

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