The BIG Conversation around Period Poverty

When the nominated senator Gloria Orwoba walked into the senate while wearing a suit stained in fake menstrual blood, there was a huge uproar across social media platforms. How dare she expose women like that? How could she shame herself in that manner? As unconventional as her tactic was, it actually raised a conversation around menstruation and women.

Period poverty simply refers to the struggle women and girls from low income backgrounds go through while trying to access menstrual hygiene products. It does remind me of a scenario back in the village when I was in primary school. There is this one lady in my class who would stain her uniform monthly. She could not afford a sanitary pad. In the village, our parents worry about school fees and what the children will eat, not pads. There were days during her menstrual cycle that she could sit in class the whole day without moving except when going home in the evening so that she did not expose her soiled dress. Ofcourse at the time, the whole scene looked weird to us as most of the girls had not started having our menstrual periods. She was mocked by her fellow pupils and at some point, the whole scenario would be used to put her down. Looking back at that, I can only imagine the mental torture she must have gone through each time her cycle approached.

When Joyce, Lona, Phanice and myself started actively working on Power Girl, one of the conversations we had aside from improving the technical skills of our female karatekas and providing mental health support to the ladies was what we could do to raise awareness on period shaming. As such, we decided to be running a pads drive in our events just to make sure that the ladies attending the sessions would atleast receive sanitary pads each time they came. We had no money or budget for this but just enough faith that w e would do it (sometimes we are overly ambitious and passionate. Lol!). Power Girl is an all girls initiative organized and run by the four of us that targets female karatekas on matters around mental health, offering technical karate support and everything around empowering, educating and elevating the female karatekas to be the best versions of themselves. We have recently held a joint training at the Nairobi Arboretum and thanks to Proaction Sports, a sports apparel company, we managed to distribute sanitary pads to all the attendees.

According to the Ministry of Health figures in 2020, only 65% of women and girls in urban areas and 46% of those in rural areas have access to disposable menstrual pads. I was born and raised in the village and I can tell you for sure, the situation back there is dire. I cannot remember how many times I ran out of sanitary pads while in high school and had to borrow from colleagues. In the absence of the disposable menstrual pads, girls resort to using pieces of clothing or mattress. You can imagine how uncomfortable that can be. But you know, wo-Man must live! so you do what you got to do. In 2019, a 14 year old girl committed suicide after a teacher reportedly shamed her when she stained her uniform in her first period. Scenarios like this hit home for me because I recall very well when I first had my first period. 26th December, 2002. I recall this day because the following day was the much awaited General Elections in Kenya. The confusion that came with having my first period is something I cannot explain in a single therapy session. So to think that someone would shame me with it is another level of humiliation.

A sanitary pad is a basic need in the life of a woman. People ask why the government provides free condoms but insists that we must buy sanitary pads when having sex is a choice but menstrual period isn’t and I totally understand their sentiments. As a society, it is imperative that we teach our young women that having their monthly period is absolutely normal and there is nothing to be ashamed about. That there could be days that you will stain your clothing unintentionally and that is okay too. You go, clean up and move on. And to our men, how many of you can walk into a supermarket with your daughter or younger sister and pick a sanitary pad from the shelve for them without feeling like a piece of your ‘man-hood’ is lost? Think about that!

And finally, Power Girl strives to restore dignity to ladies in karate and our desire is to build and rebuild the self confidence of our ladies one girl at a time. Running a pads drive and conducting menstrual hygiene talks is part of the program. We seek to work with like minded individuals who are able to come on board and support us as we elevate, educate and mentor our ladies to be all they can be and even more. Welcome on board!


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