Menstruation is a major reason why girls in most Kenyan communities miss school or drop out together due to a lack of sanitary resources and the cruel stigma that surrounds the topic. There are myths, misconceptions and taboos around even talking about menstruation, let alone starting to consider practical ways to support girls through the logistics of managing the monthly flow of blood without embarrassment or stigma. Many girls are unable to access Feminine Hygiene Products or education about their menstrual health because talking about sexual and reproductive health with students is always a little bit uncomfortable, even in the best of situations. Having these discussions within a culture that often considers anything related to reproductive health to be taboo, can be really challenging but very important. Such conversations are critical to keeping them healthy and in school. Girls need to understand their bodies, and understand how to properly take care of themselves.
The international development community fails to appreciate the unique needs of adolescent girls and the valuable insights they can bring to our programs and policies. Girls’ voices and opinions are very strong, their ideas are informed by direct experience, and their contributions often make organizations more effective. There is a strong need to value young women especially adolescent girls as this means authentically involving them in the design, implementation, and evaluation of the programs and policies that affect their health and well-being. Given such platforms these girls can be empowered to advocate for policies and champion programs that recognize their rights to education, safety, economic empowerment, participation, and equitable sexual and reproductive health information and services.
Women and adolescent girls around the world spend about 3,500 days of their life menstruating, but it remains a taboo topic in their lives. Since it is experienced and managed by girls and women, it often has a silent voice and a lower priority for development projects. Few people want to talk directly about the topic of menstruation as it’s labeled as a topic for schools to deal with or for women to quietly talk about. Only 12 percent of girls and women have access to sanitary products around the world. The rest rely on materials such as old and dirty rags, newspaper, leaves, dirt, and other unhygienic materials that often lead to infection and embarrassment due to leaks and odour.
Although the impact of inaccessibility to feminine hygiene products for women and girls living in marginalized areas is highly documented and acknowledged by most governments, very little effort or none has been put in place to overcome this major obstacle. Adolescent girl’s voices and perspectives must be central in the fight for their sexual health and rights. They have the right to be active partners in developing, shaping, and implementing programs and policies that impact their health and lives. Decision makers such as leaders of organizations and government agencies, as well as program managers and other adult professionals, need to move beyond policies and practices of the past that discourage engagement of young women. For young and adolescent girls who are often left out of the dialogue, it’s time to embrace their diversity and support their participation and the great contributions that they have to provide.