“In November 2019, as a menstrual health and hygiene trainer, I received an invitation to offer menstrual health and hygiene training to a group of teenage girls in a remote village in Samburu County. This became a transformative experience that has greatly contributed to my passion as a menstrual hygiene management (MHM) trainer. I could not help but notice the challenges and demeaning situation the women and girls underwent in this village during their menstruation. Driving into the village for about 20 minutes, I tried to trace an open shop or health facility to no avail. I turned to the driver to inquire about this, only to get a perturbing response, “The nearest shops are 30 minutes away if you take a motorbike,” he told me. The issue of access to menstrual hygiene products was clear. I learnt that sometimes these women and girls are forced to walk for several kilometers to access menstrual products with no guarantee that they will find the products they need in local shops. Sanitation facilities were also a great concern. I was surprised that women and girls had to share the same toilets with boys and men.  In addition, the training center itself lacked menstrual waste management and disposal facilities, as they relied mainly on latrines for disposal.”

In November 2019, Kenya’s Cabinet approved the Kenya National Menstrual Health Management Policy. The overarching goal of the National Menstrual Health and Hygiene Policy is to ensure that all women and girls live in dignity and can freely embrace their human right to further their own social and economic development.

This was a pivotal milestone for menstrual health champions and sector stakeholders who fervently contributed to the development of the policy. The policy highlights the roles of different stakeholders in effectively ensuring MHM for Kenyan women and girls. The policy also provides clear-cut guidelines and specific areas to focus on when training on menstrual hygiene. However, having worked in the sector for close to eight years, I have first-hand experience witnessing various organizations develop their own training manuals which lack both stakeholder collaboration and policy requirements.

According to Kenya’s Ministry of Public Service Gender, Department of Gender: The Sanitary towels programme to girls in public schools was first launched in 2011 under the Ministry of Education with an aim to procure and distribute sanitary towels to girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme was then transferred to the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs during the 2017/2018 financial year with a budget of Ksh. 470 million.

A total of 3, 703, 452 girls collectively benefitted from the project, receiving 14, 813, 810 packets of sanitary towels costing a total of Ksh. 420, 618, 057. The State Department for Gender is responsible for logistics, monitoring and evaluation for the entire project. Although the government, private sector and civil society organizations have helped make progress within MHM, a lot remains to be done to ensure the National Menstrual Health and Hygiene Policy is not just another document on the shelves.

Availability of various menstrual products in local markets offers women and girls with the option to choose based on their needs and preferences. The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) should increase efforts to ensure the safety and standardization of menstrual products available in the market to prevent malicious companies from exploitatively using adolescent girls as ‘testing kits.’

It is important to note that menstrual health management is not only about the distribution of menstrual products. According to UNICEF, “Understanding Menstrual Health and Hygiene within the context of human rights requires a holistic approach to women’s and girls’ human rights. The biological fact of menstruation, the necessity of managing menstruation, and society’s response to menstruation is linked with women’s and girls’ human rights and gender equality.” In this regard, menstrual health and hygiene interventions should include: access to sanitation facilities tailored for the needs of all women and girls, addressing socio-cultural taboos, myths and facts about menstruation, and menstrual waste management and disposal facilities. This calls for stakeholder cooperation with a common goal of understanding and addressing the unique menstrual-related needs of women of reproductive age.

The menstrual Hygiene management policy is set to be launched on 28th May 2020 by the health cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe.  The implementation of the Kenya National Menstrual Hygiene Policy can only be successful if all the stakeholders understand their roles, appropriately allocate MHM resources, and most importantly act in full cooperation to improve the sector. #ItsTimeForAction

Victor Odhiambo is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the Garden of Hope Foundation