Real Talk: Demystifying Menstruation

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menstruation

(ANITA NDERU) – “Mum am I going to die” is the question that often accompanies that phenomenal moment when a young girl finds blood on her panty. Then the awkward moment where the mother has to explain a topic she avoided for years follows.

Despite monthly menses being a blessing that validates a woman’s ability to reproduce in the future, it is treated with utmost secrecy with many young girls finding out about it through media or school where they hear highly exaggerated versions that add an element of rocket science to it. It is such a taboo in some cultures girls are considered unclean, harmful and aren’t even allowed to go to church!

This culture of silence passed on from generation to generation has turned it into a stigma that has seen girls stay home for days every month to protect their ‘secret’. “It is common knowledge that between the age of 9-16 a girl is expected to have started her period if she doesn’t it is actually a medical concern she should have addressed why wait till your 30?” asked Dr. Njoki Fernandes Gynecologist and Obstetrician during the launch of a revolutionary product that was launched in the local sanitary pad industry by CEO of San Pad Lucy Kapkirwok.

The San Pad is a 2 in 1 sanitary pad that doubles as a pad and a panty. This innovation was adopted for the local market in an effort to bring relief to girls and women in areas where water is scarce so there isn’t water to spare to wash panties. Girls who have pads but cannot afford underwear and girls who are too poor to afford panties and sanitary towels and therefore have to stay at home, and make use of old pieces of cloth to absorb the flow.

This revolutionary product comes at a hope shattering price for these young girls because it costs a staggering 150 shillings, this is pricier than other sanitary pads in the market and only has 6 in a pack. The beauty of it is obviously the 2 in 1 aspect but if the girls can’t afford a pack of 8 pads for 50 shillings how will they afford 150 shillings? ” The cost of water in those arid areas as well as that of panties, soap and pads comes to that 150 we’re charging” said Lucy defending the set price “But price is something we are working on in order to bring it below the 100 shillings mark.”

The San Pad comes in two colors thus far pink and white, with navy blue, brown and black in the works. It is thin not diaper thick , 70% bio degradable and best of all disposable!

Esther Murugi the MP of Nyeri County was the guest of honor at the launch and aired her concerns about women in IDP camps receiving food aid but not getting sanitary pads, and the men in charge of delivering relief goods to these camps do not want to speak up about the issue because they are men and those are women issues. Her suggestion? Men be educated on monthly menses and their requirements, free pads be distributed to girls in schools for girls in the 9-18 age bracket and corporate support the girl child as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Incidentally girls think they are dying when on their periods because some of them experience very heavy bleeding. This can lead to anemia, and therefore needs to be investigated and treated. Others suffer a lot of pain and discomfort during their menses which is sad because they are forced to stop for a day or two due to extreme illness despite there being medication available that is safe and effective.

Mothers are embarrassed to take their daughter to the hospital every month for treatment because they do not want everyone to know they are on their menses, and in cases where family planning pills are prescribed so as to balance the hormones and reduce the flow and pain they fear their daughters will be judged by their peers and disregard the trauma their daughters are experiencing.

Girls too poor to afford underwear opt for materials like cloth, leaves, pieces of mattress which lead to pelvic inflammatory diseases, those who can afford them but are not educated on how to use them properly fall short of the recommended personal hygiene. To prevent body odor and unsightly leaks, the sanitary pads need to be used well and changed regularly. Use of a good quality sanitary pads, and well-fitting panties ensure girls can go about their daily activities without feeling apprehensive and embarrassed.

Proper disposal of pads is important because it is not 100% bio degradable. Institutions and offices should hire pad disposal companies and in areas of little development pit latrines should be dug. Never flush a pad or tampon down the toilet!

From a tender age, girls need to learn how to maintain high standards of physical cleanliness. Once inculcated, it will be a habit that they embrace as they mature into women and later become mothers. It is sad that in this day and age, something so natural is still causing such trauma and misery among the young girls in our society. Governments, corporate and NGOs should work together, to facilitate ease of accessibility of sanitary materials among girls and women.

Mothers, parents, teachers, women leaders and mentors should take the time and the initiative to speak to young girls and their male siblings about menstruation. Girls should understand all there is to know about monthly menses so that they do not feel that it is a monthly problem, and take pride in knowing that it is actually what defines them as women and they should celebrate it.

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