Period poverty: The fault in our blood

In Kenya alone, almost 50 per cent of school-going girls do not have access to sanitary products
Period poverty: The fault in our blood

A family of 8 has just been admitted in Mafalala health centre, Mozambique. They all woke up to what seemed like food poisoning. It was not merely food poisoning. It was the eldest daughter, who inadvertently introduced microbes and bacterial toxins into the food due to poor hygiene – poor hygiene from period poverty.

In a nutshell, ‘Period poverty’ refers to lacking access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, decent toilets, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management due to financial constraints.

While many may be lucky enough to probably take this for granted, one in ten girls miss school because they don’t have access to sanitary products. Some stay away because there aren’t safe, private toilets to use at school.

In Kenya alone, almost 50 per cent of school-going girls do not have access to sanitary products.

WHO states that, each year, 600 million people (1 out of 10 persons around the world) become ill after consuming contaminated food. Among all these people, 420,000 die, including 125,000 children under the age of 5.

Women and girls’ health may be put at risk, as they are forced to use dirty rags which can cause infection. Risks can be greater if the women or girl has undergone female genital mutilation.

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In Maradi, Zinder and other parts of Niger Republic, study carried out for menstruating women and girls between 15 and 45 show that they observe nutritional and religious restrictions.

With men and boys less concerned about the management of menstruation among women, there is low awareness on menstrual health management which is more prevalent among nomadic women (96%) compared to sedentary women (49%).

There are many other health risks linked with the current practices of many girls during their menstrual cycles, especially in the rural or poor neighbourhoods.

Most times, girls are unaware of the availability of sanitary pads. They often resort to using pieces of mattress, chicken feathers, dry leaves, and newspapers to meet their needs and to attend school during their periods. The outcome is mostly offensive, repulsive and discomforting to the girls yet fertile for disease-causing organisms.

Some girls would employ plastic bowls because conveniences are far-flung from their residences; some dig holes at home and sit on them intermittently for the period of their menstruation!

UNICEF’s investigation found 54% of Kenyan girls reported challenges with accessing menstrual hygiene products. The research also highlighted that one in ten adolescent girls admitted to having transactional sex for pads in Kenya’s Kibera slums.

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Period poverty: The fault in our blood
Photo credit: Daily Post

In villages where sanitary pads are not available and girls do not have transport – many times unable to afford a bus fare – these taboo issues become so repeated they get nearly normalised.

With most of these women constantly handling dishes or domestic necessities of the family, the likelihood of introducing disease-causing organisms to water, fruits, vegetables or food is high.

Before pads became commonplace, women historically placed in all sorts during menses. Tampons were prevalent at a point, but leaving a tampon in for too long could lead to infections and sometimes cause life-threatening toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

TSS is typically caused by an overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Menstrual hygiene is so vital that it should be part of the primary school curriculum across Africa. Boys, too, should know about it.

A team of wonderful women called the Numwa Mothers Sewing group sew inexpensive sanitary pads for schools in Zimbabwe. Canada and Australia recently ended tampon tax. Sanitary products in India have become 100% tax-free, while Scotland now offers free sanitary products to low-income families.

For keeping more Tanzanian girls in school with her enlightenment and investment in Menstrual Hygiene, entrepreneur Lucy Odiwa won the World Bank’s first SDGs and Her competition in 2018.

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Options available to the girl child are; frequently changed tampons, sanitary pads and menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are usually sterilised and reusable. They will no longer have to miss days in the week every month, while classes are on.

Little girls who are yet to start earning livelihood do not have to pay for a natural process which they have little or no control over. We must do better by pushing for progressive policies to end period poverty in Africa. We can do better.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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