No sanitary products for prisoners

In this undated photo, prisoners at Lang’ata Women’s Prison learn sewing using machines donated by Fr Peter Meienberg. Women will have their periods whether in prison or not. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • More than 100 female prisoners in Korinda Prison have no access to sanitary products
  • Since mid-May, Kenya Prisons Service suspended visits to curtail the Covid-19 
  • Covid-19 has exposed weaknesses in the system that inherently either discriminates or fails to provide for women.
  • There is an uptick in the number of young girls being exploited for sanitary towels 

Female prisoners in Korinda Prison in Busia County are suffering from a lack of access to sanitary products, says a local organisation. 

Since mid-May, the Kenya Prisons Service suspended all visits to curtail the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The news comes on Menstrual Hygiene (MH) Day – a day dedicated to breaking the silence around periods. This year, the theme aims to highlight how Covid-19 is further exacerbating the menstruation-related challenges many face around the world.

There are reportedly more than 100 women in Korinda Prison, many of whom relied on visits from relatives, NGOs and organisations to provide sanitary products pre-pandemic. 

Mary Makokha, executive director of Busia-based organisation REEP (Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme) says the prison contacted her for help. 

“The in-charge (of the prison) told me these women are suffering,” she explained over the phone from her office in Butula.

“They had no panties, no sanitary towels. Women were walking with blood running down their legs and that becomes a big hygiene problem. 

"Periods are not going to respect Covid-19, you know?”

In April, Ms Makokha dropped off more than 150 packets of sanitary towels and 200 pairs of underwear. But that delivery "won’t last", she says, and considers taking reusable products next time.

Periods do not stop for pandemics, and people are using the hashtag #PeriodsInPandemics to highlight what Covid-19 means for menstrual health and hygiene in the current climate. 


Basic or essential services need to be provided for all persons, says Judy Gitau, Equality Now’s Regional Africa Coordinator. For women, sanitary towels are essential services because menstruation is “not an option”.

“Women will have their periods. It doesn't matter whether they are in prison or not. The stigma that comes with anything related to sexual reproductive health doesn’t negate the fact that sanitary products are a basic need,” says Ms Gitau.

She notes that Covid-19 has exposed weaknesses in the system that inherently either discriminates or fails to provide for women.

“This just tells you that (MH management) is clearly not a priority for the prison system. It’s really a shame,” she adds. 

MH Day takes place every year on May 28. This is because the average duration of a menstrual cycle is 28 days and on average, women and girls menstruate for five days per month (hence 28-5 or May 28).

Around the world, places such as schools and community centres where women and girls typically access critical information about menstruation are closed, while routine health services have also been reduced, says MH Day organisers.

Covid-19 will affect the menstrual hygiene management of women working in healthcare facilities, garment factories and those living in informal settlements, as well as in prisons, according to Relief Web

There is a lack of research on the barriers these women are facing to manage their menstruation, making it “more difficult to take protective measures”.

“Prisons are public institutions,” says Ms Gitau, “Anyone who violates the law will be put into these places for rehabilitation. And so sanitary products must be provided in that space.”

Ms Makokha also notes an uptick in the number of young girls being exploited for sanitary towels since the pandemic. 

“Systems are not working, the police are so busy taking care of the curfew and reporting has got so difficult," she adds.