Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day! Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) was initiated by the German non-profit WASH United in 2013. MH Day is a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls. Poor menstrual hygiene caused by a lack of education on the issue, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure undermines the educational opportunities, health and overall social status of women and girls around the world. Today IDF is proud to feature the work of one of our grantee partners, ZanaAfrica, an organization that equips adolescent girls in Kenya with the tools they need to safely navigate puberty and step into their potential, while also leading global advocacy efforts to break the period taboo.
Imagine if 60% of girls in your community dropped out of high school, if the average age of sexual debut was 14, and 30% of teen girls were pregnant. Pause and think about that for a moment.
For many of us, this is simply too hard to imagine. But for millions of girls around the world—and for the thousands of girls we serve each year in Kenya—this is their lived reality.
The joys and challenges of adolescence are universal. No matter where girls live, they have big aspirations. They dream of becoming doctors, artists, teachers, you name it—but for girls in our program; extreme poverty, harmful practices, and entrenched gender norms derail their futures.
Beyond this, 60% of girls in Kenya cannot access menstrual health management (MHM) products due to cost and availability. The impact on girls’ confidence, safety, and dignity is tremendous. Shame and stigma silences girls and their elders from openly discussing menstrual and sexual health together, further perpetuating misinformation and marginalization.
When I traveled to Kenya last month, I heard directly from parents who wished they could support their children with information about puberty but lacked their own knowledge to impart. They also discussed the painful material effects of period poverty—how they often have to choose between buying food and buying sanitary pads for their daughters.
It’s obvious. Without sanitary pads and related health education, girls suffer, and their potential is put at risk. They often feel ashamed or distracted by fears of staining their clothes. Some girls use homemade materials to absorb their flow. In severe cases, girls engage in transactional sex to obtain pads.
We need to do more. To create sustainable change, we must support girls and the communities in which they live. We must provide engaging, culturally informed, rights-based health education to not only girls—but also women, boys, and men. We must ensure girls have safe people to confide in and reliable products to manage their periods—which are a sign of their health and vitality. We must support positive rights-of-passage that celebrate a girls’ transition to womanhood, and also advocate for policies and programs that expand access to menstrual products and comprehensive sex education that break harmful taboos.
It’s time for action. On this day advocates from across the world are celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day to raise awareness of this global issue. This is not just an issue facing girls “over there” in Kenya or other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. These challenges exist around the world and in our own backyards. If you can do one thing this month, raise your voice today and speak up about the need for menstrual health management and reproductive health education. Raise awareness of the real challenges facing girls. Together, we can ensure no woman or girl is left behind because of menstruation.
Do your part. Don’t let a period stop her.
Alison Nakamura Netter is the Executive Director of ZanaAfrica Foundation, US based 501c3 that equips adolescent girls in Kenya with the tools they need to safely navigate puberty and reach their full potential. To learn more about ZanaAfrica Foundation, visit: www.zanaafrica.org