As Mr Wycliffe Okutoyi from Kakamega County struggles to budget money for his family’s needs - meals, clothes, school fees, and school supplies, he finds menstrual products particularly difficult to cover.
He works as a Boda Boda rider and the money him and his wife Beatrice Anyango, a casual labourer makes, is not enough to cater to most of their household needs.
“The budget is stretched, the prices of almost all commodities have risen yet both of our combined earnings are meagre,” he said.
The couple has 10 children and menstrual period products for their seven daughters can sometimes cost up to Sh900 a month, money they can barely afford.
“There are times some would return home from school, and I would ask, ‘Is it school fees again?’ then they would shake their heads in disapproval, and as their mother, I’d know what that means,” said Ms Anyango.
Difficulty affording menstrual products can mean a lot to vulnerable households.
Some girls in Kakamega, a situation mirrored in other neighbouring counties, don’t go to school during their menses and this causes lasting consequences on their educational opportunities.
A 2018 study by UNICEF show that some girls engage in transactional sex to pay for menstrual products, with lack of sanitary towels a great contributor to teenage pregnancies.
According to the Ministry of Health, Kenya ranks third worldwide in teenage pregnancies. The grim data shows that one in five adolescents aged 15–19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.
“Paying for sanitary products can be a financial burden for girls and women, and this is especially difficult for those who are living in poverty or who lack access to affordable hygiene products,” says Ruth Nyakio, a teen mentor in Kiambu County.
Emilly Omudho, Team Leader of the Livelihoods programme with Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) knows this too well.
“In this community, most caregivers are subsistence farmers and keep livestock but on a small scale. Others are casual labrers burdened with many primary needs. As such, they are unable to provide sanitary towels, which to them is a secondary need. When some girls can’t get sanitary pads from their guardians, they go for alternatives. Some are unhygienic options such as dirty rags, they miss school and it’s an avenue for exploitation,” she said.
In a report released in July last year by Kakamega County reproduction health office, it revealed that more than 12,000 girls’ teen girls get pregnant each year.
“Lack of access to reproductive health information and interventions such as the provision of sanitary towels have exacerbated the issue,” she said noting the government needs to put in effort to keep learners in school and have a policy in place that ensures girls' access sanitary towels.
When we visited her home, Ms Anyango looked pleased. She and seven of her children had just returned home from a community meeting held in Butere, Kakamega where 25 young boys and girls received dignity kits.
The girls brought home an annual supply of sanitary pads and other essentials including three inner wears, soap, and petroleum jelly. Her son also got a dignity kit that included some innerwear, toothpaste, toothbrush, and petroleum jelly.
“It’s a blessing,” Ms Anyango said. “It will help out a lot.”
Besides the dignity kits, KCDF, also takes the teenagers through trainings on adolescent sexual and reproductive health, and together with their Pamoja 4TheChild program, they have been able to raise resources towards the dignity kits as well as food donations to vulnerable families in Bungoma, Busia, Kakamega, Kisumu and Siaya.
Ms Omudho notes that HIV prevalence is high in the County and this has led to households having a high number of orphans and elderly caregivers which consequently affects their livelihoods.
“So far, more than 1,000 girls in the five counties have benefited. The goal is to improve the well-being of the children in all spheres and build the capacity of households so they can be self-sufficient,” she said.
With the provision of dignity kits, girls and boys are able to attend school without fear of ridicule or messing up their clothes and it helps build their self-confidence. Further, with the training on menstrual hygiene, they are safeguarding the dignity, bodily integrity, and overall life opportunities of these girls and boys.
Two of the adolescents who benefitted from dignity kits said that they had been taught how long to stay with the pads while the other, a boy, smiled and said, “When my classmates or sisters get their periods, I know what to do.”