International Day of the Girl, initiated by the United Nations in 2012, “aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.”
This year’s theme is “With Her: A Skilled Girlforce,” which seeks to recognize how many girls lack the education they deserve, support their learning opportunities, and aid their transition into the workforce.
However, girls in Kenya miss an average of six weeks of school due to a lack of menstruation products. How can girls achieve their full potential or feel in control if a natural part of their lives hinders them from receiving a full education?
Menstrual Health is a Fundamental Human Right
Remember when you got your first period? Many different thoughts and feelings might have raced through your mind--but anxiety over how to manage it and go about your day was paramount.
“What should I do? What does this mean?” I remember thinking. Learning that this would be happening every month was intimidating, to say the least.
For young women, access to menstrual health products and education is essential to their well-being and advancement. The ZanaAfrica Foundation, a nonprofit based in Kenya, has the mission of supporting adolescent girls in Kenya to stay in school by delivering reproductive health education and sanitary pads. More broadly, the organization aims to help girls to recognize their full potential and educate them to make personal health decisions.
For Underdeveloped Areas, Menstrual Health is Traded for a High Price
Lets make a super clear statement something like: Young girls do not have access to basic health care, much less pads and tampons in many developing nations, including Africa - or something like this.
Unicef found that 65 percent of girls in the Kibera slum – an area of the capital of Nairobi which is one of the largest urban slums in Africa – had traded sex for sanitary pads. Shockingly, ten percent of girls across all of western Kenya have engaged in transactional sex for menstrual products.
This unfortunately stems from a basic lack of access to sanitary products as well as a lack of education around consent and bodily autonomy. Unicef is actively engaged in solving this costly dilemma.
Allison Nakamura Netter, the chief communications and development officer for ZanaAfrica, spoke of the solutions the organization promotes. The nonprofit partners with local organizations that know their community best in order to distribute pads and curricula for reproductive health education, as well as advocates for menstrual health as a human right with the Kenyan government.
Since 2013, ZanaAfrica has provided nearly 50,000 girls with sanitary pads, health education, and underwear. In that time the organization has also created five issues of Nia Teen, a transformative rights-based reproductive health magazine, designed for adolescent girls.
“The need to provide these services or these interventions to girls and to communities is so critical,” Nakamura Netter said.
The Future of Reproductive Health in Kenya
Thankfully, ZanaAfrica has launched a campaign in the month leading up to International Day of the Girl on October 11. The campaign seeks to raise funds and awareness for ZanaAfrica’s work in Kenya, and the funds will go to expanding access to sanitary pads and reproductive health education.
“Having access to products and to information is really a fundamental human right.”
Allison Nakamura Netter, chief communications and development officer
ZanaAfrica is one of the leading organizations in a world realizing that women’s menstrual hygiene should not be regarded as a luxury. Not only does a lack of access to products and education inhibit girls’ education, it places a burden on every woman who cannot afford them.
The statistics are shocking: around the world, only 12 percent of young people with periods have access to the products they need. Organizations around the world similar to ZanaAfrica, such as Freedom4Girls and #HappyPeriod, aim to provide sanitary products women and girls experiencing poverty and homelessness so they too may be educated and employed.
“Really having an understanding of what’s going on in your body and what changes are happening to you is kind of knowing yourself, and knowing your body is a first step to understanding yourself,” added Nakamura Netter.
Feeling in control of your body and knowing what it is capable of when it begins to change is the first step to knowing how to set boundaries, and knowing that you should have the only say in what happens to your body and how you are treated.
Because of efforts like those ZanaAfrica is providing, hopefully, every girl will be able to “access [her] own voice and make informed decisions about [her] body.”
You can help, too. To support the campaign, click here, and make sure to check out the amazing work ZanaAfrica is doing.
ZanaAfrica is 60% of the way to their campaign goal, the profits of which will go to supporting girls access menstrual health products and education. ($50 can support a girl with sanitary pads, engaging reproductive health education, and safe mentors for an entire year.) The more people contribute, the more girls can access this basic human right.