The class is full of students. From their faces you can guess that they have been eagerly waiting for this day. The students are between 13 and 17 years, from the back you can hear them giggling and whispering, probably happy that the visitors have arrived.
The teacher tells me there are 100 student., “Great, that is manageable,” I reply with a hesitant voice. From the front I could notice a few boys. They are visibly uncomfortable. It is clear that they do not know why they are there in the first place. I do not want to judge, so I tell my team to continue with the session. From the window I can see more students peeping, perhaps an indication that they want to be part of this session. One of my colleagues starts talking about puberty asking a few questions. At this moment, the students are actively participating and answering all the questions, even the boys!
I remember in Primary school, we had specific words we would use if we suspected that girls were on their periods. We would pose such questions as: “Unanyesha” “uko na moods” “have the angels visited?”. Was it lack of knowledge or ignorance? The teachers did not do much to help either. At some point, my desk mate then was a lady, I remember the several times in a month she sat throughout the day, she did not join us for outdoor activities and would volunteer to clean the class, only after everyone has gone to play. One day I saw traces of blood on the seat, I started laughing and shared it with a couple of friends, they did not make the situation better either. I would realize I couple of weeks later that my classmate was menstruating, but did not have any feminine products to use. She had heavy periods and her tissue was socked!
The reality hit me in 2014, when my friends and I visited a local orphanage, one girl approached me for Ksh 50 (50 cents). At first I was very hesitant, but she insisted. I gave her. She disappeared for about 10 minutes and came back. I asked my female colleagues to inquire what the money was for. It turned out that someone she trusted was asking for sex in exchange for sanitary towels. My heart sunk. I was angry at the situation and I vowed to support women and girls get access to menstrual products since then.
Some 1.2 billion women and girls globally lack access to feminine hygiene products (Menstrual Products). In 2014, The United Nations recognized menstrual hygiene as a global public health and human-rights issue. Every month, millions of young girls and women miss school, religious events and other social activities due to lack of menstrual products. Punitive and retrogressive cultural practices make this situation worse.. In fact in 2017, three girls lost their lives in nepal because they were isolated out in the cold because they were menstruating.
Men and boys can support women and girls to manage menstruation effectively across different social domains including household, community, school, and work. Men and boys influence women’s and girls’ experiences of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) through many roles, including as husbands, fathers, brothers, students, peers, teachers, community leaders, entrepreneurs, employers, development and humanitarian practitioners and policymakers.
When we started talking about Menstruation in our sessions at Garden of Hope Foundation, all the boys left the class, perhaps they felt that this was not what they were looking forward to, maybe it was not their concern. In a male dominated society, I believe men and boys can use their voices to advocate for challenges such as these.
Garden of Hope Foundation was started to respond to the needs of women and girls during menstruation, I must admit this was very uncomfortable, but as I continued to immerse myself in this topic, I got to understand why it is important for men and boys to be involved. Each year we train 150 men and boys on menstruation. Since 2014, we have hosted menstrual hygiene day with men and boys included. The boys have gone ahead to train women and girls in their community, schools and even churches about menstrual hygiene and currently we have boys ambassadors.