Fourteen-year-old girls’ rights advocate Joyce successfully called on her government to provide sanitary pads for girls. I couldn’t believe someone so small like me in this community could contribute to the voices that made people realise that girls are facing problems,” she says.
On the International Day of the Girl 2016, 14-year-old Joyce stepped into the shoes of the Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya, Sara Hradecky, and boldly spoke about how difficult it is for girls to remain in school during their periods.
As part of a speech she made on the day, she said, “The majority of girls from the poor families stay at home for lack of sanitary towels. I am yet to understand why condoms are free when sex is based on free will while pads are expensive and taxed when menstruation is based on nature. Some girls fear going to school because they smell badly.
“I urge the government to make pads available to all adolescent girls for free.”
In his response, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology at that time said, “We have set aside money in the next financial year which will be used for the provision of sanitary towels for all Kenyan girls. We are committed to enhancing girls’ education.”
Speaking out for girls
Looking back on the her speech and the effect it had, Joyce says, “When I first let out of my heart during the speech I was so hurt because I had a friend who didn’t have the opportunity to get sanitary towels. When I remembered her I told myself that I had the opportunity to speak for her and for many other girls. I addressed Matiangi and told him that girls are facing many problems. I asked him to find it in his heart to pass a law that provides free sanitary towels to all schools. Girls out there are facing problems but they have no one to speak for them.
“After hearing that the law was passed,” Joyce says, “I was very shocked and happy…I couldn’t believe someone so small like me in this community could contribute to the voices that made people realise that girls are facing problems.
“With the passing of this law, girls will be able to learn comfortably. They will be happy knowing we’re safe and free. No more boys laughing at us; nothing like that! We are going to learn and make a brighter future.
“When I heard that the law has been passed, I just wanted to have the opportunity to go personally to the Education Cabinet Secretary and President to just shake their hands and tell them thank you very much. Now I’m seeing a brighter future for girls in Kenya. We’re going to have strong women in the future who will lead this nation. Women who can walk strongly and say I’m a woman and I’m proud of it.”
Supporting girls to manage their periods
The onset of puberty and menstruation is a vulnerable time for girls because of their changing bodies, pressures including sexual coercion and expectations to marry from their families and the need to perform well in school.
These pressures are further compounded by girls’ lack of knowledge of their bodies, their rights, the implications of their decisions and the inability to manage their periods safely and comfortably with appropriate menstrual health and hygiene management products.
In Bondo Programme Unit, we have partnered with a community based organisations to produce reusable sanitary towels that are affordable for girls and women in rural areas.
Within the Kilifi Programme Unit, the NIA project, a 20 month pilot project, seeks to address the lack of rigorous evidence on the role of providing sanitary pads and sexual and reproductive health rights education on girls’ education and wellbeing.
In Nairobi, our Adolescent Girls Initiative project has been providing girls with sanitary towels to ensure they don’t have to miss school during their periods.