Senator’s atypical move a reminder that period poverty is everybody’s business

Senator in ‘period stained’ suit kicked out of Parliament

What you need to know:

  • Clearly, Senator Gloria Orwoba was not on her menses – her mission was to pass a message.
  • Her action ignited untold reactions on social media, with users condemning and supporting her in equal measure.

On Valentine’s Day, we witnessed some drama in the Senate. Nominated Senator Karen Nyamu was kicked out of the House for wearing a sleeveless top – ahem! Story for another day. 

Her counterpart Gloria Orwoba was also ejected for wearing a ‘blood-stained’ white trouser suit. Clearly, she was not on her menses – her mission was to pass a message.

Her action ignited untold reactions on social media, with users condemning and supporting her in equal measure. She has since given notice of a motion on free sanitary towels aimed at ending period poverty.

So, was she seeking attention? Yes! To a problem that only a poor woman understands well. Whether you agree with her stunt or not, her action ignited a public conversation.

One man even said that in his entire marriage, he has never seen blood-stained attire in his house. All the same, Ms Orwoba’s message got home. Period poverty exists and stigma around menstrual hygiene is real. Stigma that makes it difficult for people to openly discuss menstruation, a human rights issue that continues to be a target for discrimination and humiliation.

Each month, 1.9 billion of the world’s population menstruate. In sub-Saharan Africa, about one in 10 girls misses school during her menses because she does not want to risk soiling her uniform, while others fear the stigma that surrounds periods. Many improvise with old blankets, chicken feathers, old rags, newspapers, mud and even cow dung.They may also be too embarrassed to participate in sports or other co-curricular activities. School dropouts also don’t enter the job market easily, predisposing them to economic and social poverty.

Period poverty pushes low-income women and girls into harmful behaviour like engaging in transactional sex to buy pads. Lack of menstrual health education at home and in school is a core challenge; it means that when girls get their menses, their initial reaction is fear and shame.

Where sexual education exists, most don’t cover menstrual health, or exclude boys – losing a key opportunity to tackle period stigma at an early age.

Men and boys should play a role in shifting negative attitudes surrounding menses. The shame associated with menstruation is so bad that when you buy sanitary products at a supermarket, it’s wrapped in opaque paper, assuming it is embarrassing to be seen with them.

In 2017, former President Uhuru Kenyatta signed an amendment to the Education Act, effectively offering free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every schoolgirl. The state has, since 2011, set aside funds for pads distribution to needy girls.

While campaigning last year, President William Ruto said his government would provide free pads for all girls. Despite these measures, 65 per cent of Kenyan women and girls can still not access pads.

Worse still, Parliament reduced an already low budgetary allocation for sanitary towels in 2022/23 from Sh470 million to Sh260 million.

Every time we stress the value of menstrual health, we are one step closer to seeing it as a reality.

The drama in Parliament was that of a legislator doing exactly that, and although her mode of presentation did not resonate with some people, it got people talking. Period poverty is real; it should be everybody’s business.