Period of shame: Girls yet to receive sanitary pads in Kisumu school
A typical Friday morning at Ojola Kadero primary school in Kisumu sees Atieno*, a Class Six pupil joins her peers in carrying desks back to class after a lesson outside.
The 13-year-old girl does not play during breaks: she would rather sit in, and read ahead, for when her menses kick in.
“Ninaweza kaa kama wiki moja ama siku tatu ama nikikuja asubuhi itabidi nirudi saa saba kwa sababu naogopa watanichekelea alafu ata nyumbani hakuna sabuni sasa hakuna vile nitaoga na maji tu sasa naogopa kurudi sababu vijana ata wasichana wenzangu watanichekelea (I usually have to go back home at lunch hour when I am on my periods because I fear being laughed at…at home, showering is a challenge because we cannot even afford soap and during that time of the month bathing with water alone is not sufficient),” she said during an interview.
Atieno is one of the beneficiaries across of the free sanitary pads distribution program initiated by the government in 2011.
Despite a budgetary allocation of Ksh.470million in the 2017/2018 budget, this school is yet to receive sanitary pads for the 134 beneficiaries.
The last batch came in June last year and for a county with a poverty index of 34percent, sanitary pads are a luxury item.
For Atieno, the two towels she receives monthly can only do so much, for she only has two panties.
“Hata kama niko nazo zimeraruka zimechapakaa hakuna vile naweza kuzitumia na wazazi pia wanajaribu lakini hakuna pesa sababu hata chakula haitoshi (The panties I have are torn, worn out and there is no way I can use them. My parents are doing their best but there is no money because even the food we get is little),”Atieno adds.
The Education Ministry indicates that should a learner miss school for four days a week, they stand to lose six learning weeks per academic year out of the prescribed 36.
But for Zacheus Okeyo, a teacher, he is guaranteed that his register will miss at least two girls weekly.
“When a girl does not show up we just guess what happened because we live in a locality where people work for 200 per day yet one gorogoro (kilogram) goes for Ksh.100 and that can only go to necessities like food,” Okeyo said.
Dorothy Otieno, an activist, agrees that the conversation on menstruation is broader than sanitary towels distribution.
“While we are thinking about pads some of these girls cannot afford panties, we also want to demystify taboos that it is a female issue and men should not even talk about it,” she said.
As the world marked Menstrual Hygiene Day on Tuesday, the economic status of women and girls seems to be the main obstacle towards marking a 100 percent attendance in school, with basic clothing such as panties lacking.
Until a holistic plan that considers the alleviation of poverty is put in place, menstrual flow will continue to create a pool of inequality where girls will drown in shame.
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