ADOLESCENT GIRLS EMPOWERMENT FORUM OCTOBER 2014
Theme: Talk early, talk often, prevent teenage pregnancy

HIA Network is a Community Based Organization (CBO) under the ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development Reg No MAK/A7227/2013/145.  The organization exists to help in realization of the role of young people especially young women and girls in the attainment of UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly access to education and health care by 2015 and beyond. In addition, it works to encourage leadership and empowerment through advocacy on HIV/AIDS, drugs & substance abuse, reproductive health awareness, education, Menstruation Management, entrepreneurship and sustainable development.

During 2014 International Day of the Girl Child, which was celebrated on the 11th of October 2014, HIA was able to bring together 320 Adolescent Girls, 50 boys and 20 teenage mothers from different schools in Uriri Constituency. The event was held at Oyani Sports ground where participants celebrated this special day with some good mentorship from different empowered Women who shared their life experiences with them and gave a talk on how important it was for a girl to be educated and empowered as that’s the only way we will as a team fight teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortion and Harmful traditional practices.

They were also taken through a small interactive session on leadership skills, information on health and sanitation, Menstruation Management and life skills by other young women and mentors. There was a strong emphasis on Menstruation Management and Hygiene for girls.  These girls were helped to understand how to count their menstrual cycle and how to use a sanitary towel. This is because there is still lack of knowledge and skills on menstrual management for girls from these communities and limited access to safe, affordable, convenient and culturally appropriate methods for dealing with menstruation.  A similar forum was held on the 18th of October 2014 in Taita Constituency. This event was Held at ACK St. Jude Church Choke Village. 50 adolescent girls were brought together and went through a whole day of mentorship and different activities.

In most Kenyan families discussion with children around sex related topics is still a taboo. As a result most children especially girls discover and learn about sex on their own or from peers. At this age parents believe their daughters are too young for conversations around sexuality issues such as sex, contraception, conception etc. This results mostly into teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortions and constant missing of school during menstruation. Young women aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die from complications in pregnancy as compared to older women. The chances of death in the first year of life for a baby born to a woman under the age of 18 is 60 per cent greater than that of one born to a woman aged 19 or older. Teenage pregnancy has been on the rise in Kenya and the situation is likely to get out of hand if nothing is done. Several factors, including peer pressure, rape, cultural practices, lack of sexual awareness and abuse of alcohol and drugs have been attributed to teenage pregnancies, but the biggest association is with poverty. This explains why teenage pregnancies are more usual in the rural parts of Kenya, especially among poor households. Violence against women also exposes many young girls to unplanned pregnancies and its various consequences.
Lacking money to buy sanitary products, many school girls in these villages don’t attend class during menstruation. Disposable pads are expensive and many young girls cannot afford.  The poor sanitation due to poor menstrual management not only undermines the dignity of the affected young girls but also culminates into poor performance in school as many opt to skip school. Most of these girls are forced to miss a week of schooling every month. They stay home and are forced to use unsafe measures to meet their sanitary need. These include recycling used disposable pads and improvising pads from old clothes, rags, newspapers, bits of mattress and any readily available materials. Some of them are forced to have sex with older men in exchange of money to buy sanitary towels just to make sure they stay in school.

The HIA project focuses on empowering girls with relevant information on their sexuality as well as life skills aimed at reducing their sexual vulnerability. There is also strong advocacy on girl child education and possible ways on helping keep these girls in schools. This was a well celebrated day as at the end of the day all the 390 participants were able to go home with some knowledge they gained on menstruation management and also some feminine hygiene products such as sanitary towels (both disposable and reusable), soap, and panties.
As a peer mentor and a strong advocate for girl child empowerment and education, I strongly believe that both the local and global community needs to put more effort towards supporting girls and their menstrual cycles. In order to move forward, all stakeholders must work as a team and:
•    Improve access to sanitary towels, running water, toilets and privacy;
•    Increase the number of trained health care workers able to respond to girls’ questions and concerns and who can provide accurate information and care when menstrual health problems occur;
•    Educate Community leaders to enhance efforts to change the perception of menarche and menstruation to one of promise and pride rather than shame.
With all the aforementioned efforts combined, we will undoubtedly help to increase and improve girls’ self-esteem, enable girls to take charge of their own lives, and create safe and supportive environments in which to grow and shine. If teenage pregnancy is to be controlled and reduced we must realize that the solution lies in a shared responsibility that incorporates communities, the government and other stake holders and the teenagers themselves. We should also remember that menstrual health is not just a “women’s issue.” We need to get people — boys and girls, men and women — to talk openly about menstrual health in every part of the Kenya. Female hygiene should be at the top of government’s list of priorities
It is a special thank you to everyone who contributed in one way or the other and a big thank you to Panties with a purpose, Bidco Oil Company, Feminine Collective, Mr. Henry Otieno, Lloyd Masika Team and every individual who donated items to ensure the day was a success.
“Girls are the spirit of our nation, lets save them by giving them the right information about their right to health, hygiene, education and sanitation.”

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