Let’s talk menstruation. Let’s talk about sanitary products. Let’s talk sanitation. I’ve noticed most NGOs/companies prefer to give out the recyclable pads or menstrual cups from the donations they get from the international companies that produce these products and feel the need to help ‘the poor’ in Kenya. From their point of view, it makes sense financially and also as a social responsibility but are you addressing the problem or filling ticks on the to do list…
Here is the thing, talking to several women/girls on the ground, the problem is not ‘poor’ or ‘lack of sanitary’(we will address this later) . The major problem is the lack of proper sanitation i.e. water and access to toilets. Water makes a huge difference when it comes to women’s healthcare. While the recyclable pads or cups are ‘good for the environment’ and can be used for long, they require proper care in terms of cleaning and storage. One requires access to not just water but clean water regularly to wash and recycle these products while yet we know clean water may be limited or not easily accessible to women in some of these areas. Our own Nairobi has water rationing that sees some parts receive water once a week so how about that girl in the rural village who has to trek kilometres for water or has to part with money just to access this basic human right? How are they to justify their now need for water at home or in school to clean these products?
If not properly cleaned and reused, we are susceptible to infections which is adding a burden to an already burdened girl/woman who now has to deal with looking for money to go see a doctor who most likely will dismiss her or the medication required may be too costly for her or is simply not available.
Another thing that needs to be factored is the access to toilets AND PRIVACY. Unlike in urban areas where you can have a tap within the washroom or in the toilet, most underprivileged or poor women/girls have to deal with the communal toilet/ pit latrine even within the home. So privacy in this instance is a myth and because menstruation/periods is still a taboo, washing of recyclable pads or cups cannot be done in the open as it is seen as shameful and there she has to do this cleaning either at night when the rest of the house is asleep or in secret which again leads to infections as the girl/woman is in a hurry to clean it up and barely has time to prioritise hygiene.
Another thing that we need to address is the education behind the products. As much as you are distributing hundreds of these products, how much education is out there on the mode of cleaning? Does everyone receiving this products receive AND UNDERSTAND the education on how to use, clean, store and dispose them?
Then the cost and availability, those that you’ve distributed the cups and pads, after they wear out or are no longer usable, how accessible or available are they for them to get/buy them? What financial solution have you addressed for the women so that they can afford the products for themselves and their daughters? Even for those who buy or can afford menstrual cups, let us be honest, they are not cheap and if we compare the cost that one uses to buy the cup vs. buying sanitary towels for a year even more, the towels are definitely cheaper and less hustle and are more available that the rest.
So before you feel the social need to help or just use this act of ‘social responsibility’ to market your products, please take time and do some research on how and where and why.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying disposable sanitary towels are the answer but we need to look for a solution that is based on the current issue. ( I will talk about the disposable towels later)
I am glad about the distributing sanitary towels to all girls in school by the government but we need a regular follow up mechanism to ensure not only does it reach all schools and girls but they receive these towels REGULARLY and FREELY….In this case I’m taking about a girl who may be having dysmenorrhoea/heavy periods and requires more towels than her classmates but the school or teacher limits each girl to maybe 1 or 2 pads in a day. I would also like to have some education that comes with the sanitary towels. Education for both boys and girls on menstruation.
I will leave this conversation open as we need to look deeper for a solution that puts the user’s needs and circumstances first, like thinking of permanent solution to clean EASILY ACCESSIBLE water for women and girls or access to toilets made for girls especially in schools . If you know of any, let’s talk.