Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021: Access to Menstrual Hygiene Information and Products

Today, 28th May 2021 marks the Menstrual Hygiene Day, a day to break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential. This day provides a global platform for partners across all sectors to engage in action, advocacy and knowledge-sharing around menstrual hygiene management. Menstrual Hygiene Day was initiated by  WASH United in 2013 and acts as its International Secretariat.

The MHD 2021 Theme is “Action and Investment in Menstrual Hygiene and Health”. This is to call upon all public, private and other advocacy actors to prioritize reproductive health and set aside the resources to achieve this fundamental basic human right. So many girls worldwide still have a challenge accessing menstrual hygiene products. In some poor countries, girls miss out on school because they have to stay at home when they are having their periods. Some girls especially in the rural areas have resorted to other queer means like chicken feathers, cheap mattresses and newspapers to fashion makeshift pads to “hide the shame”.

In Kenya, there have been a few interventions to try and bridge this gap both from the government and other private actors. The Government of Kenya officially launched the Sanitary Towels Program in 2017 where girls in public schools and from disadvantaged backgrounds would receive free sanitary products. Up to now, some schools in marginalized areas report not having received this essential commodity, while others haven’t received them for a while. This situation was even heightened by the pandemic as many school-going children had to stay home for a long period of time, hence missing out on the products.

Recently, a Kenyan lawyer filed a petition to compel the Government of Kenya to provide free sanitary towels to all school-going girls just like how it handles the distribution of free condoms in public institutions. Here is a statement from the papers presented in court by the lawyer:

The provision of sanitary towels to school girls is essential to upholding their inherent right to human dignity respected and protected. A declaration does issue that the State’s providence of male condoms is sufficient evidence to show that resources are available and that the State has no defense under Article 20 of the 2010 constitution”.

And it’s not only just about access to sanitary products that is the issue; the quality of some of these products has been questioned. Kenyan women took to Twitter under the hashtag #myalwaysexperience to express their frustration with Always pads. Many of them shared their experiences of how the sanitary pads left them with painful rashes and a burning sensation after use. The company responded by coming up with what they termed as a better-quality product though women now had to dig deeper in their pockets to afford it. The inequality in the quality of products in different markets is very evident, with women and girls from poorer countries bearing the heavier burden of having to use substandard products.

Access to information on reproductive health and menstrual hygiene is still a challenge as this topic is still regarded as taboo. Check out this article we wrote earlier about how different communities across the globe still treat this normal biological process as a taboo. However, with the emergence of the internet, those who are lucky to be online have an upper hand as there are so many resources in terms of articles and applications designed to help women understand this fundamental subject.

I also want to mention some different actors here in Kenya who have played a part in promoting access to menstrual hygiene products and information. Pad Heaven, a Kenyan company that produces reusable sanitary products, has come up with a book, ’Path to Womanhood’, that seeks to educate young girls on menstruation matters. Janet Mbugua, a former news anchor and the founder of Inua Dada Foundation has also authored a book titled ‘My First Time’ which seeks to enlighten young girls to understand what goes on when they receive their first period, so that they don’t freak out. There are so many other organizations, apps and platforms out there that try to educate girls and women on how to go about managing their reproductive health, but still some girls in marginalized areas don’t have access to these.

Lastly, there is also need to learn about the different menstrual hygiene products in the market, so that women can make informed choices on what’s best suits them. From sanitary pads, tampons to menstrual cups, there has been very limited information on the use of some of these products making it hard for some women to consider using some of them. We wrote an article about the use of menstrual cups, because we found out that so many women were shunning this product due to the inadequate information about its proper use.

A lot has been done, but a lot still needs to be done to promote the access to menstrual hygiene products and information. It is through the collaborative efforts of different actors that women and girls, not just in Kenya, will not cringe at the mention of the word periods.

Follow the hashtag #ItsTimeForAction for more information on this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day.


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