How US$2 are keeping Kenyan girls away from school
Hundreds of young girls in Kenya take time off school until their period passes. Unable to afford sanitary materials, they miss school so as to avoid the shame of leaking and bleeding onto pieces of old cloth. These girls believe that free bleeding in the safety of their homes is the only solution, as their alternatives do not seem to offer a better outcome.
Imagine life as a 16 year old Kenyan girl, and consider her limited options. Would you go to school, sit in class all day whilst missing break, and refuse to answer questions in the fear of standing up so other students will see that you have leaked on your light coloured uniform? Would you stay at home and miss out on an entire week of education? Or would you have sex with older men, in exchange for some money to buy sanitary materials? What would you do?
Video by Living Hope on how a lack of sanitary materials inhibits the education of girls, and on their programme 'Keep A Girl In School'.
To say their families live hand to mouth is an understatement. The average Kenyan daily income is under one USD per day. The cost of two packs of sanitary materials to get you through a full cycle is between 140 to 250 Kenyan Shillings, which amounts to just over two USD. This forces young girls to live a life of shame, not only lowering their self-esteem, but also subjecting them to infections through the use of unhygienic cloths. Many also suffer from STIs such as HIV and unwanted pregnancies due to unprotected sex, forcing them out of school.
Why this is a problem
According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 50% of school-age girls in Kenya do not have access to sanitary pads. This problem exists in other parts of the world as well, with 30% of girls in Nepal missing school during their period.
Education for girls in Kenya is the most feasible way out of poverty. If girls decide to stay at home whilst on their menstrual cycle, they will be missing days worth of work, which are vital to their future. Whilst missing a couple of days of school a month does not seem like much, its effects are drastic when accumulated. Take a moment and think about it. An average of seven days a month, 21 days per term; equating to 84 days a year. This means that girls spend a quarter of their high school life hiding at home for a biological process they have no control over.
These girls are full of potential, yet are unable to perform well in exams and achieve good grades due to the time that is lost from school. Extra tuition classes are not an option, as families struggle to even put together enough money to send their daughters to school.
These intelligent girls will not experience higher level education as their families cannot afford the high fees, and earning places at universities through academic scholarships is not an option due to the 84 days spent away from school per year.
Their only option is to join the workforce, doing low-skilled and badly-paid manual jobs, in the hopes of adding a little more food to the table. The cycle of poverty repeats itself, as these girls will have their own families, and their daughters will go through the exact same struggle.
How this can be solved
The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), enforced by the United Nations, focuses on sanitation and hygiene, gender equality and empowerment. It hopes that this can be prohibited with the help of initiatives such as Girl Up Uganda and Days For Girls. Not only do they distribute reusable sanitary pads, they also teach them how to manufacture their own sustainable ones, paving the way for girls to receive an equal education.
28 May is Menstrual Hygiene Day. I challenge you to raise awareness for the struggles many girls face globally due to their menstruation, celebrate the work of charities and governments to combat these problems, and aspire to see more girls reach their full potential.
Trisha was born and raised in Kenya and currently lives in Hong Kong. She works as a Director of the non-profit organisation Stand Up Shout Out, promoting youth empowerment in Kenya and Hong Kong. Having organised various MUN conferences, she aspires to see more youth engage in the discussion of global issues especially through D4C. She also strives to see more organisations work towards increasing the access Kenyan girls have to education.