Menstrual Hygiene Day has been celebrated on 28th May of every year since 2014. This year’s theme is ‘We need to step up action and investment in menstrual health and hygiene now!’ In 2020, the Ministry of Health in Kenya launched The Kenya Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Policy (2019-2030). The launch marked a milestone in the country’s progress towards universal access to improved sanitation and hygiene and a clean and healthy environment. The mission of the policy is to ensure that all women and girls in Kenya can manage menstruation hygienically, freely, with dignity and with access to the right information on MHM; menstrual products, services and facilities; and to safe disposal of menstrual waste.
Prior to the MHM Policy, there were no specific policies or regulations that ensured that girls did not suffer due to a biological occurrence. Statistics indicate that up to 65% of women and girls in Kenya face significant challenges when it comes to managing their menstruation. One of the biggest challenges they face is lack of access to affordable sanitary products. Inadequate education on menarche, puberty, and MHM. They also lack the necessary information channels for ongoing support, mentorship, and knowledge further exacerbate the situation.
The inability to manage menstruation results in absenteeism and increased drop out rates for girls in schools. The absenteeism often ends in women and girls remaining in a vicious cycle of poverty. In some instances, poor management of menstruation results in early teenage and unplanned pregnancies as well as unsafe abortions. This is because some girls occasionally resort to transactional sex to afford menstrual products including clean water.
While there is the government program on free sanitary pads to girls in public schools, NGOs and other stakeholders have had to actively participate in ensuring that girls can access affordable sanitary products.
There is also an increase in low-cost sanitary pad enterprises, but their reach is still limited. High costs and distribution challenges limit the accessibility of disposable pads to most poor girls and women, especially in rural areas.
Following the MHM policy, the government, through the Ministry of Public Service and Gender, oversees the implementation of government programs on menstrual hygiene. The Ministry is also a collaborative link between the government and other actors working towards influencing further policy in this area.
Despite the efforts being made by the government, barriers to high-quality MHM persist across the country. Unfortunately, women and girls in low-income and informal settlements are disproportionately affected.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown that biological occurrences cannot be paused to accommodate a crisis. The pandemic has further highlighted the fact that women’s human rights are negatively impacted when they cannot manage their menstruation with dignity, and when they lack access to accurate menstrual health information and menstrual products.