In May, charitable organisation Dig Deep launched their Period Pride campaign. Here, Period Pride Campaign Manager Rachael Marshall explains how menstruation is viewed in Kenya and why this campaign is working to tackle shame and stigma surrounding periods in the country.
“My name is Rachael and I work for the organisation Dig Deep, and during the month of May, we launched our Period Pride campaign. Which has meant that for the past 5 months I have done little else than talk about periods!
Dig Deep is a water and sanitation charity. We work with schools and communities South-West of Kenya to provide access to clean water, safe sanitation and essential menstruation and hygiene training.
‘Period Pride’ was launched to celebrate periods. We wanted to create a campaign that not only raised awareness and funding for our Menstrual Health Management (MHM) work in Kenya, but that focused on shedding the stigmas associated with periods.
Imagine going to school already feeling embarrassed and ashamed, and not having anywhere to privately and safely handle your period.
Menstruation in Kenya
In Kenya only 12% of girls would feel comfortable talking to their mums about their period, and only 32% of rural schools have a safe and private place for girls to change their menstrual products. Imagine being silenced by your period, feeling so ashamed that you wouldn’t feel comfortable to discuss what you were experiencing with your mother. Then imagine going to school already feeling embarrassed and ashamed, and not having anywhere to privately and safely handle your period.
We know that menstruation is a taboo topic in Kenya, meaning that the shame and stigmas attached to periods are scarring the psyche and confidence of young girls at a critical time in their lives. The lack of knowledge around menstruation is creating shame and crippling misunderstandings, which keeps girls at home when they should be learning. This is why Dig Deep provides education that equips girls with the information they need to manage their periods effectively. We educate girls about their bodies; teaching them about the biological function of periods and how they can manage and prepare for their menstruation. Dig Deep also provides safe and private female latrines which include shower rooms and clean running water.
A deafening silence surrounding menstruation
Earlier this year I visited Kenya with menstruation researcher Jennifer Moore. We spent 3 weeks in the village of Ndanai where we worked with Dig Deep’s Kenyan team to try to understand further the localised issues that young women face living and going to school here. Together we conducted a series of focus groups with community members of all different ages and genders. We spoke to school children, teachers, mothers, fathers and community health workers. In the first focus group we spoke with a group of teenage girls, and what immediately struck me was how ashamed these girls were of their periods. The silence was almost deafening when we mentioned the word Menstruation. Initially, the girls only felt comfortable talking about periods by writing it down. What I then began to realise was that this could well have been the first time they’d had a conversation about menstruation in this way.
As we continued to conduct the various focus groups a pattern tended to emerge. The word menstruation would be met with silence or awkward sniggering from the more confident children/teens in the room. Questions would be answered with limited words and open discussion between those in the room was nowhere to be seen. The complexity of this issue continued to reveal itself, by highlighting the various cultural taboos that had remained within the community. Some of these include not being able to pick vegetables from the garden or milk a cow when menstruating. The taboos and understanding of menstruation can vary based on an individual’s ethnic group or community traditions, which showed us how important it was to ensure the educational training Dig Deep provided was flexible and adaptable to the individuals in the sessions.
I can only imagine how scary it must be to grow up in an environment where there are so many confusing messages surrounding menstrual health.
What has stuck with me since returning is how confusing starting your period must be for most girls in Kenya. I can only imagine how scary it must be to grow up in an environment where there are so many confusing messages surrounding menstrual health. Not only must it be confusing, but for many, it will also be an extremely lonely experience as they do not share with their friends or family for fear of being ridiculed and teased. All of this fear and confusion comes from misinformation and from missing out on having a safe space to discuss, learn and question what is happening to their bodies.
Bringing Period Pride to Kenya
This is why we chose to name our campaign ‘Period Pride’ because pride is the exact opposite of shame. We want our campaign to reflect what we are trying to achieve through our period programme and that is to give girls the confidence they need to thrive! Menstrual education is so much more than just explaining what a period is. Our programme is designed to educate girls and boys on the biological facts they need to best understand menstruation and why is it a normal and healthy process. Involving boys in the conversation is critical to the success of the training, as they too must understand that periods are natural and that they must support and care for their sisters and future daughters.
Our programme is also designed to create a safe space to ask questions and open the dialogue between pupils and their classmates. We want the children to leave the session armed with the knowledge and understanding they need to take on the world without being held back by their periods.
Menstrual education is just the first drop that creates life-changing ripples. We know that for every year a girl stays in education in Kenya, she will earn between 10% and 25% more money in her lifetime. It’s our aim to unlock the potential of young girls and keep them learning so that they can earn more in the future to lift themselves, and their families out of poverty.
To support the Period Pride Campaign and provide essential menstruation education to school children in Kenya visit: www.digdeep.org.uk/period-pride. Thanks to Rachael for writing this post and telling us all about Period Pride. You can follow Dig Deep’s work on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.