What you need to know:
- A 2016 Unesco report estimates that one in 10 schoolgirls in sub-Saharan Africa skip lessons during their menstruation.
- Education ministry data show that a girl absent from school for four days in 28 days loses 13 learning days, equivalent to two weeks of learning in every school term.
- In an academic year (nine months), a girl loses 39 learning days, equivalent to six weeks of learning time.
More than one million schoolgirls will start receiving free sanitary towels from the government in two weeks to minimise absenteeism.
Studies show that a schoolgirl loses 18 out of 108 learning weeks from Grade Six to Eight because of period poverty. That translates into three years. Within four years of high school, a girl can lose 156 learning days, equivalent to almost 24 out of 144 weeks of learning.
In view of the situation, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu said his ministry has purchased sanitary towels for every girl in public school. He spoke in Mombasa on the sidelines of the biennial Kenya Universities Funding Conference.
“This financial year, the government gave Sh470 million, which we have used to procure sanitary towels that have been supplied to schools. From the next two weeks, every school should be able to receive sanitary towels,” he said.
A 2016 Unesco report estimates that one in 10 schoolgirls in sub-Saharan Africa skip lessons during their menstruation.
Data from the Ministry of Education indicates that a girl absent from school for four days in 28 days (one month) loses 13 learning days, equivalent to two weeks of learning in every school term. In an academic year (nine months), a girl loses 39 learning days, equivalent to six weeks of learning time.
Since 2017, the government has been setting aside Sh400 million annually to purchase and distribute the commodity in public schools. Retired President Uhuru Kenyatta won accolades globally after his government declared the free sanitary towels initiative.
Many schoolgirls grapple with period shame. Research shows that over 65 per cent of women and girls in Kenya have no access to feminine hygiene products. Many girls benefit while in school but have no access when they close for holidays.
On this year’s Valentine’s Day, nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba caused a stir in the Senate over her period-stained white trousers suit. She was asked to leave the chamber.
The first-term lawmaker has been pushing the government to increase funding for free sanitary pads and female hygiene products in public schools and correctional facilities.
“We have the Education Act on the provision of sanitary pads to schoolgirls. However, it does not give the frequency and the framework, and there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with in terms of regulations and legal work, for instance procurement allowing manufacturing to be part of this solution,” she said.
In an interview with Citizen TV, the senator said period poverty means women and girls cannot afford to buy sanitary towels.
“If you take away the jobs by actually importing the sanitary towels and killing the local industry, it's one way of ensuring the poverty continues. My bill intends to have a standing act on the provision of sanitary towels to all schoolchildren in primary, secondary and prisons,” she said.
She said schoolchildren are vulnerable, with some resorting to transactional sex. Ms Orwoba said some minors drop out of school because of menstruation, with others married off. She termed it sad for inmates to share sanitary pads.