The menstrual holes of Tana River - VIDEO
What you need to know:
- Due to extreme poverty, most girls use traditional methods during their menses.
- Girls dig holes and sit on them like brooding chicken during their menses sometimes for a whole day.
- Little education on menstrual hygiene offered to the girls due to traditional inhibitions.
- Elderly people shun topics related to reproductive and sexual anatomy.
- Corruption has destroyed efforts to ensure absolute menstrual hygiene in the region.
Menstrual hygiene is a strange phenomenal to most girls in Tana River County. Due to extreme poverty in the region, majority use traditional methods during their menses.
While some use rags in place of sanitary towels, others dig holes in the bushes where they sit for hours.
Sumeya Ado is a 19-year-old self-declared ambassador for menstrual hygiene in the county. Speaking to the The Nation gender desk, she says girls from pastoral communities go through a rough time during their menses.
She recalls her time as a student at Mau Mau Memorial Girls where people misconstrued her beauty for riches, yet she used pieces of clothes cut from bed sheets as sanitary towels.
"It was never easy stealing from other students to protect yourself from shame. While some broke into boxes, I opted for bed sheets," she says.
Girls who had sanitary pads in school were the envy of many; those without were considered backwards, leading to stigma.
She says things are harder in the village because girls dig holes and sit like brooding chicken during their monthly cycle.
"At times they sit half a day, sometimes the whole day. They then get some leaves which they burn to produce smoke that neutralises the unpleasant smell," she narrates.
Little has been done to educate the girls on the special event of their lives. Traditionally, it is taboo for mothers to engage their daughters on menstrual hygiene and sex education. It can earn one a divorce or a beating.
Elderly people in the pastoral community say topics related to reproductive and sexual anatomy invoke bad omen to the family.
Parents who attempt to discuss these topics are accused of coaching their children on prostitution, or how to dodge pregnancies during sexual escapades.
As a result, some girls find themselves in embarrassing situations in school, leading to stigma and eventually dropping out of school out of shame.
Consequently, they get married young, experience early pregnancies, hence more distress.
Ralia Hassan, a gender activist in the county, says most girls confide and seek support from their boyfriends or financially able individuals.
"We are fast losing our girls to young boys and sex pests. Society politicizes the woman’s life instead of having real conversations," she says.
Ms Ralia notes that girls in Tana River County will continue investing their energy on digging menstrual holes, tearing clothes for cover, until they have no choice but walk naked.
The activist notes that most policies on menstrual cycle are enacted in Nairobi and never go beyond the city boundaries.
"Uhuru Kenyatta pronounced menstrual hygiene a human right… but the efforts have not stretched this far," she interjects.
Data from Ministry of Education office in Tana River shows the county has 3,012 girls in both primary and secondary schools. Out of these, 83 per cent are day scholars, majority of whom cannot afford most basic needs.
Last year, 125 girls dropped out of schools in unclear circumstances. The director of education in the county Mr James Nyagah says most just gave up due to other reasons but not school fees since some of them were sponsored.
Hawa Abdighafoor, a reproductive health officer at the Hola Referral Hospital terms the menstrual health situation in the region a crisis.
She says traditional beliefs have heavily weighed down efforts to educate the girl child on her menstrual hygiene.
Ms Hawa notes that elders in most communities, discourage women forums and if any is held, they attend, disrupt with the claim that such meetings brainwash girls.
"These are the men with 14-year-old girls as wives. Enlightening the girl child on basic health makes their positions in society feel threatened," she says.
The health officer laments that no arm of government has managed to unravel the puzzle for the girl child, especially in the pastoral communities.
She notes that the girls are naive and feel confused during their menstrual cycles.
"You are married in a village, you go to the bush and find spots marked with pegs. You then realize someone attended her menses in a hole, covered it and placed a peg so that the next person does not dig the same place," she recounts.
Ms Hawa says this practice is the norm for the girls, their mothers and even elderly women because they know no better ways to go about it.
She notes that the systems are filled with corrupt cartels determined to destroy any effort to ensure absolute menstrual hygiene.
"Sanitary towels brought for our girls are sold on the streets when they get here. I mean just three packets of sanitary towels and six panties are enough menstrual hygiene pack for a girl, but they never get to the needy individuals," she says.
Recent statistics at the hospital show that 370 women including girls, undergo fungal or bacterial infections treatment every year.
Some end up with smelly genitals earning them divorce, while others report cases when situations are extreme and require advanced medical services, hence referral.
"I feel sad for our women, it is heart-breaking. And worse when you know it only requires Sh1 million out of the billions, to make things better," she says.