Kenyan girls miss 3.5 million days of school per month due to their periods. In an effort to close the attendance gap, the government will now be providing state schools with free sanitary pads for students.
Signed as an amendment to the education act by President Uhuru Kenyatta, a new law will help keep girls in school by providing them with a necessity to which many currently do not have access. This decision is a huge step in a string of initiatives that Kenya has undertaken in recent years to make sanitary products more accessible to women and girls. The government stopped taxing sanitary products ten years ago, and it has also been allocating funds for the distribution of pads to underprivileged girls for the past six years. $5 million has been budgeted for the 2017-2018 year, a $4 million increase from the previous year.
With the passage of this act, more girls than ever will have access to sanitary pads, making them less likely to miss or drop out of school due to their periods. Around 65 percent of Kenyan women and girls cannot afford to buy sanitary pads, as each packet is worth the daily wage of an unskilled worker. Some girls make their own pads out of materials like cloth, tissue and old clothes, which are often uncomfortable, and many girls who use these homemade pads still miss school out of fear of leakage and accidents that could cause embarrassment.
The stigma and shame girls in Kenya experience isn’t just related to a lack of hygiene products—it’s also the result of a widespread lack of education on menstruation at home and in schools. According to a report by the non-profit consulting firm FSG, only 12 percent of girls feel comfortable asking their mothers about menstruation, and 1 in 4 girls do not know the relationship between menstruation and pregnancy.
All of these factors contribute to the attrition of girls from school, which is also linked to early marriage and lower wages. Some parents also encourage their daughters to drop out of school, fearing they will be sexually harassed by boys and male teachers or preferring to teach them how to maintain a household and start a family. Providing pads for the large number of girls who cannot access them will serve as an important factor in keeping girls in school.
A report by the UN’s education agency states that one in ten African girls miss school during menstruation, but the difficulty of obtaining sanitary products is not specific to the region. In countries like India and Afghanistan, The Pad Project aims to ameliorate these conditions by providing communities with machines that manufacture pads at very low costs. This strategy makes space to both employ women to operate the machinery and give girls access to the menstrual products they need—and it smashes silence and shame by making menstruation a community issue. In partnership with the Feminist Majority Foundation and Girls Learn International’s Oakwood School Chapter, The Pad Project is currently raising funds to operate a pad machine in India for the next year.
A period should end a sentence—not a girl’s education. Hopefully, Kenya’s leadership in addressing the intersection of menstruation and education is one more step toward making the destruction of this barrier a reality worldwide.