The Inner Wheel District 20 has launched a new mission to help schoolgirls in Africa who lack the basic provisions to manage their periods of menstruation.
The Inner Wheel group representing members in Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset has been inspired by the work of Akamba Aid Fund which aims to improve the lives of young women in Kenya through the distribution of Ruby Cups.
Ruby Cups, a silicone menstrual female hygiene product, is a safe, healthy and economical alternative to sanitary pads and tampons, making it a suitable solution to a problem faced by many young women in Kenya which has a detrimental impact on their education and work opportunities - their monthly period.
Whilst access to sanitary products is something that women in the UK take for granted, women – including schoolgirls navigate the changes to their body – in Kenya and other African countries do not have access to these products. According to a recent survey conducted by FSG and sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two thirds of women and girls in Kenya are unable to afford sanitary products.
Research has found that in some areas like rural Western Kenya, two thirds of women aged 13-29 using sanitary pads receive them from sexual partners, with it being common for girls to engage in transactional sex for goods that meet their basic needs, like sanitary products. Researchers have found that the likelihood of gaining sanitary products is increased by girls having more than one sexual partner, greatly increasing their risk of contracting HIV or having an unwanted pregnancy.
Education on menstruation is limited, with the subject traditionally seen by communities as taboo. FSG’s Menstrual Health in Kenya found that only 50% of girls say they openly discuss menstruation at home, and only 12% would be comfortable receiving menstruation or advice from their mothers. These statistics reflect the culture of silence that surrounds women’s bodies and sexuality in Kenya and other African countries.
The result of this silence is that for many girls their first period is a traumatic experience which they hide from family members, teachers and their peers for fear they will be out casted.
For many schoolgirls, periods are a barrier to their development. They will often miss a week of school every month as a result of being unable to control their bleeding and soiling their clothing, being afraid of discovery and having only basic toilet facilities that are rarely separate from boys, with no doors or privacy, just mere holes in the ground over which they squat. According to the UN’s education agency one in ten schoolgirls have been found missing school during menstruation in sub-Saharan Africa. This absence is seen as contributing to the levels of illiteracy amongst rural teenage girls; whilst the national average for illiteracy in Kenya is 7% in girls aged 15-19, those living in rural, conservative north eastern province it is 50%.
In the past 5 years there has been a growing momentum within Kenya, backed by international donors to improve women’s and girls’ menstrual health. This momentum led to the Kenyan government amending the education act in July this year to legislate the provision of ‘sufficient’ free sanitary products to state schools. Despite it now being part of the country’s laws to provide all girls registered at a school with free pads, there are doubts over the delivery of this legislation.
For the foreseeable future NGOs like Akamba Aid Fund will have to continue to fill the gap, with donations of items like Ruby Cups and menstrual health education programmes doing what they can to help women and girls overcome the barrier created by their periods.
Vital to their work is the support of groups like the Inner Wheel District 20, who have made it their mission to help girls stay in school. To aid in this mission Inner Wheel District 20 Chairman, Lynne Evans and International Service organiser Pam Brewster have revealed a plan to work with other Inner Wheel chosen charities – Worldwater Works and School in a Bag – to provide women’s hygiene products in the water survival boxes and bags that these organisations deploy in the developing world and disaster relief areas.
The two charities have well established distribution routes and the logistical experience to ensure successful deployment of the products. They have welcomed the Inner Wheel District 20’s mission plan and support their intentions to ensure that menstruation no longer imprisons women to a life of illiteracy, poverty and isolation.
First published in Chew Valley Gazette, Dec 2017