Girls Exchange Sex For Sanitary Products In Kenya
Period poverty is a really tragic situation in Kenya, with young women on the receiving end of sexual abuse.
Unicef has highlighted research which found that 10 per cent of young adolescent girls admitted to having transactional sex for pads in western Kenya. The research found 54 per cent of Kenyan girls reported challenges with accessing menstrual hygiene management products and 22 per cent of girls of school attending age indicated they bought their own sanitary products.
Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Andrew Trevett, Unicef Kenya chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, said the humanitarian organisation had found it was common for girls to be sexually abused in exchange for sanitary items.
“We have motorcycle taxis called boda bodas and the girls engage in sex with the drivers who in exchange source the sanitary pads,” he said. “This is happening for two reasons. One obvious reason is poverty – girls and women don’t have the financial means to buy sanitary products.”
He noted that the deeply-entrenched taboo which surrounds periods in Kenya results in a dearth of information available for girls and women.
“The sensitivity around menstruation means the girls and boys are not receiving any information. You would expect it to be a mother to daughter conversation but it seems that is no so. Also, there is no information from school,” he said.
Read More About How Girls Exchange Sex For Sanitary Pads In Kenya
Period poverty is a widespread problem in Kenya – with UNICEF finding seven per cent of women and girls they surveyed rely on old cloths, pieces of blankets, chicken feathers, mud and newspapers. 46 per cent used disposable pads and six per cent used reusable pads.
Furthermore, 76 per cent of women and girls faced challenges in gaining access to adequate water and sanitation facilities for menstruation and only 17.5 per cent of learning institutions had running water near the toilets, as well as hand washing facilities and soap.
Roughly 30 per cent of the sampled schools in Kenya provided sanitary pads for their students but in most instances, the sanitary pads were only for emergencies.
Agnes, a 15-year-old student in Kuria West sub-county, has also experienced the dark side of period poverty.
“My period arrived on a normal school day. I woke up and went to school as usual,” she said. “My period arrived during an English class. I feared telling my teacher and also feared boys would laugh at me.”
Ariana Youn, Unicef Kenya Communication and Advocacy Specialist, explained the arrival of a young girl’s period is often seen as a sign of maturity, signifying they have reached a marriageable age.
The Subject Of Periods Is Taboo
“Parents are concerned about their daughter getting pregnant, which makes them avoid conversations about periods. They try to get the girls to avoid any tangential opportunities to ask about sex or engage in sex,” she told The Independent. “Some communities view menstruation as an entry into womanhood and see that they may be ready for marriage.”
It is worth noting that early marriage radically increases the risk of child pregnancy. It also causes repeated pregnancy without sufficient birth spacing, and complications such as obstetric fistula.
Ms Youn explained the profoundly disruptive impact menstruation can have on young girls’ lives in Kenya.
“Some girls and women without access will find any solution they can,” she said. “They will dig a hole in the dirt and sit there for days while they are on their period. This is a big reason why a lot of girls fall behind in school and miss out so much. Girls engage in sex with boda boda drivers because they have power, money, and access to the product.”
Stigma and systemic misinformation surround periods in the country.
Superstitious beliefs about menstruation are rife. Commonly held myths include the notion that having periods makes one dirty and impure. Periods are a disease or curse. And food goes bad if you go in the kitchen during your period. Finally, crops will die if you go into the garden when you are on your period.
What’s more, many believe you can pass out from period blood loss. Also, you are not able to get pregnant if you engage in sex on your period.
The destitution that surrounds menstruation stretches across Africa as a whole. One in ten girls in Africa miss school during their period due to no access to sanitary products. Also a lack of safe, private toilets at school.
It goes without saying that if girls are not in school, they will likely be forced into child marriage or teenage pregnancy.
Nevertheless, Kenya has been making progress on the issue. Thanks to government, Unicef and partners’ initiatives. About 90,000 girls in 335 schools now have access to safe and hygienic toilets with menstrual hygiene (MHM) facilities.