What you need to know:
- A man engaging in a conversation on menstruation is called names and seen as unworthy to sit among other men, hence the alarming rise of period stigma in this society.
- However, Hamid Babusa, the Kinakomba ward representative, is taking an initiative to change the conversation from being a women-only agenda to a men-also concern.
Traditions and cultural norms have made it difficult for men to openly discuss menstrual hygiene in Tana River County.
A man engaging in such a conversation is called names and seen as unworthy to sit among other men, hence the alarming rise of period stigma in this society.
However, Hamid Babusa, the Kinakomba ward representative, is taking an initiative to change the conversation from being a women-only agenda to a men-also concern.
Mr Babusa, who is also the chairperson of the County Assembly Education Committee, is engaging male students in a conversation about menstrual cycle, hygiene, and period stigma and poverty.
“Men are responsible for period stigma resulting in lots of school dropouts and early pregnancy and marriage; they are the ones who can end it and it has to start with the young ones," he says.
According to Mr Babusa, men need to be enlightened on the biological process, to understand how to handle girls and support them. This knowledge, he says, is not shared at home, yet it is supposed to, a situation that results in traumatic experiences for girls encountering her menses the first time.
He says male elders have ‘criminalised’ the conversation on sanitary towels, hence girls with only male parents suffer a great deal as they have no one to look to. “If you ask many of those who got pregnant or married early in primary school, they will tell you it started with being mocked and begging for a sanitary pad; it is sad."
By engaging the boy-child, Mr Babusa notes that it reduces girls’ vulnerability, thus creating an environment within which they feel safe. He tells the men the signs and effects of period stigma, and about menstrual hygiene kits so that they can become advocates in their homes.
"Anytime a girl messes during her period, the men will burst with laughter, and later on despise her, it traumatises the girl, so what I teach them is how to arrest that situation as men, I am raising gentlemen to be responsible fathers in future."
He notes that the lessons taught in schools on menstrual hygiene are not enough to handle the side effects of the vice, hence the need to make it a robust conversation. He also involves boys in the distribution of sanitary towels and organises them in groups with girls so that they can share their experiences for a better understanding of one another.
"This is not a conversation that ends at primary schools, we intend to make it a campaign across the forums we have, it is time to decriminalise a biological process created by God."
Mr Babusa intends to push for a bill to make sanitary pads free for all girls in the county, and calls on relevant organisations to support his effort on fighting period stigma through counselling of victims and sensitising men.
"There are those survivors who would want to go back to school after counselling, but I cannot meet their desire. I believe someone out there can and needs to be a part of this."
According to a report by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef), more than 45,000 children in Tana River County are out of school. Among factors contributing to such absenteeism are period stigma, period poverty, early marriages, pregnancy, and drought.