Menstrual health project helps girls overcome stigma
Supported by Theirworld, the ZanaAfrica Foundation is tackling taboo topics in Kenya by providing sanitary pads and giving introductory health lessons to thousands of teenagers.
Puberty and reproductive health are taboo subjects for many in Kenya – rarely discussed at home or in the classroom.
That stigma and the lack of menstrual products have a huge impact on the health and safety of teenage girls. An estimated one in five Kenyan girls aged 15 to 17 are pregnant or have had children.
But a pilot project supported by Theirworld is helping to address the issues by providing sanitary pads and cotton underpants to 10,000 girls.
As part of the project, the ZanaAfrica Foundation recently hosted a pad distribution and health club lesson with 100 students in the coastal town of Kilifi. Girls and boys learned about menstrual health, sexual health and self-confidence.
Jane Wakesho, a teacher at Bofa School, near Kalifi, said: “Distributing pads and pants to girls has really assisted in maintaining them in school.
“Girls used to stay at home for lack of pads. They understand themselves and have opened up and shared what they used to keep to themselves.”
Eunice William, 15, from Mtondia School, said: “Sometimes my mother did not have money to buy sanitary towels, so I would not be able to concentrate in class. Thank you for giving us pads.”
With Theirworld’s support, ZanaAfrica is providing and distributing a three-month supply of sanitary pads and a pair of cotton underpants to each of the 10,000 girls in the programme.
As well as addressing period poverty, pads serve as a way for teachers to foster discussions with students about sexual and reproductive health and rights. ZanaAfrica’s work is crucial because two in three girls in Kenya lack access to health education and sanitary wear.
The organisation also delivers lessons in reproductive and life skills. Its curriculum improves girls’ self-belief and confidence, as well as teaching boys about respect and understanding.
Faith Chengo, 15, from Bofa School, said: “Before ZanaAfrica came, I was feeling shy about it. Health club makes you more confident.”
This year Theirworld has also supported the Nairobi-based organisation to pilot a training programme for 50 teachers. ZanaAfrica intends to build on this to expand its training to an additional 1,000 teachers in 2024 – ultimately reaching about 200,000 girls across rural and urban Kenya.
Teacher Jane Wakesho said the organisation is having a real impact on both girls and boys.
She added: “Cases of early pregnancy had been increasing. But since the learners started getting the health club lessons, these cases have gone to zero.
“The girls have really become responsible and very assertive. We also have very changed boys.”