Close to 20 percent of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle while many more drop out once they start menstruating. This is according to a 2016 report by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Luckily, for over 800, 000 girls in the country sitting their final year national examinations this month, this, will not be their narrative. Thanks to the M-PESA Foundation and Ministry of Education, the girls will receive enough sanitary towels to last them three months.
Safaricom Chief Executive Officer said the idea came about after the story of a girl in Bomet who took her life after she was taunted and teased in school for having her period while in school.
“This was very saddening to me and I asked my team ‘What can we do about this? How can we help?’ Immediately, we sprang into action to see what we can do and how we can cooperate with the Ministry of Education to get sanitary pads to the girls as soon as possible, in particular at this very important time when they are sitting their exams,” Mr Joseph said.
The sanitary pads were handed over at a ceremony in Nairobi and the pads are destined for public schools in all 47 counties, including those in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.
The menstrual health packages for the more than 800, 000 girls are estimated to be worth KES281 million.
Courtesy of the M-PESA Foundation, through the Keeping Girls in School Programme, the girls will receive a menstrual health package consisting of three packets of sanitary pads, three pieces of underwear and a menstrual health information booklet.
Often, the cost of sanitary towels is too high, especially for girls from disadvantaged families, forcing them to skip school or worse, engaging in risky sexual behavior to access money to buy pads.
“The cost is extraordinary I must say. I did not realise when we decided to do this that the cost would be so high. Now I can understand why it’s such a challenge for the ministry,” said Mr Joseph.
The CEO said the company would explore ways of continuing the programme at a lower cost and with more sustainable, reusable and biodegradable pads.
There are 4.7 million girls in public primary and high school in Kenya, 487,365 of them in Class 8 and 342,639 in Form Four.
In 2010, the government started the National Free Sanitary Towel Programme to provide sanitary towels to school girls. Unfortunately, according to the Cabinet Secretary of Education, Professor George Magoha, there is not enough funding to cover all girls.
“We are expected as government to provide sanitary hygiene to our children in school, it’s in the 2013 ACT. Unfortunately, this year we only had KES470 million. We can at best provide sanitary towels for four months,” said the Cabinet Secretary as he thanked Safaricom for chipping in.
“I have been to our children’s classrooms and there are situations where the girl child is absent. As a physician I know she is absent because of what we are talking about,” he added.
Speaking at the flag off ceremony, UNHCR Kenya Country Representative Ms. Fathiaa Abdalla said it is important for girls to feel supported and protected in the gradual passage of womanhood, which is a cause for celebration and not hindering their education.
“I’m grateful to the MPESA Foundation and Ministry of Education for including girls in refugee camps. 4,300 girls in Kakuma and Dadaab will benefit from this initiative. By providing them with these supplies you are making a big difference to their health, education and quality of life,” said Fathiaa.
Safaricom is keen on joining in the mission to keep girls in school by ensuring they are not limited by something as natural and normal as their period.