Have you ever wondered what a young woman born into extreme poverty does when she gets her period? How does she manage it in a place without drug stores, and how does it affect her daily life?
At the very least, for women in poverty who lack basic hygiene supplies, this monthly event halts the daily routine and limits what she can do. Over time, however, it can eat away at her chances for education and a better life.
In many resource-poor communities, girls miss many days of school just because they don’t have the luxury of sanitary pads. In Northern Kenya, for example, few shops carry these supplies, and ones that do carry brands no cheaper than $1. When your family makes only $1-2 a day, suddenly, the pads become less of a necessity.
Old strips of clothing, socks, cotton wool, tissue paper, pages torn from school books and pieces of sponge torn from mattresses are used for this purpose, but without clean water or sanitation, this only leads to more infection, poverty and low morale. Girls’ clothes may become stained with blood, causing enough embarrassment to keep them out of school and extracurricular activities until the period passes.
Zipporah Muhoro (in yellow shirt), the child-development program manager for FH Kenya, helps distribute these essential supplies to children who need them most.
“The worst thing is, in most communities, this is not a subject that is talked about,” says Zipporah. “In one school where our HIV program supplies sanitary towels to orphans, the head teacher said, ‘We did not know there was such a need until we saw the impact of provision of the towels in improved girl participation in activities.’ Therefore, the girls suffer alone.”
FH meets this hidden but essential need by supplying sanitary pads to orphans and families with the fewest resources. The Kenyan government gives a little money to provide for these children termed “the most vulnerable,” but it rarely goes toward the purchase of sanitary pads.
“Men in the families,” says Zipporah, “are not concerned with this ‘women’s issue,’ and the adult women are too busy struggling to feed their families to give this much thought.”
These items are a simple, instant way to enable girls and young women to advance their education and help lift their communities out of poverty.
“The change in the girls’ participation in classroom and extracurricular activities,” says Zipporah, “has been remarkable.”