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HEALTH, SELF-ESTEEM, EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITY – SANITARY TOWELS ARE A SERIOUS ISSUE

The Prime Minister Raila Odinga has ordered two ministries to start providing sanitary towels to Kenyan students from July. The PM said that the Ministry of Education should liaise with that of Public Health to provide the towels in all public schools from the next financial year, the Daily Nation reported on Wednesday 25th May.
The move comes as an effort to control the number of girls who have to miss up to a week of school every month during menstruation due to lack of sanitary pads. Girls are forced to miss school out of embarrassments and ridicule from male counterparts.  According to a recent study reported by the New York Times, girls can be losing one-fourth of their education to menstruation.
In Kenya where close to 50 per cent of Kenyans live on less than one dollar a day (Sh80), even the most basic commodities have become luxuries. A packet containing eight sanitary pads costs as much 100 shillings (about 1.50 USD). The price is too high for majority of women who might not make that much in a day, going by the above statistics.
From January 2001, the rate of VAT for eligible sanitary protection products was lowered from the full rate of 17.5% to the “reduced rate” of 5%, in line with EU restrictions. Nevertheless, most women can still not afford them because the retail price did not fall following the tax cut.

NGOs and charity organisations have also stepped up to address the issue by providing sanitary pads, panties and soap to more challenged areas as it also became apparent that most of these girls could not afford panties too. Initiatives of mending reusable pads have also been undertaken and the girls have been provided with the raw materials as well as the ‘know how’ of patching up such.

Other research carried out into the effectiveness of this remedy reported that the impact was considerable. The girls’ once low self-esteem were raised, they were able to concentrate better in school, their confidence grew, and they were able to participate in more daily activities even during their cycles. The cases of girls missing schools also reduced drastically.

Even as the PM further instructed the Ministry of Finance to include the costs of the pads in the next Budget questions remained; what about the other girls back in the villages living outside the classroom walls? And what about the women, the girls’ mothers for example, who have not been able to provide the same ‘basic commodity’ to their daughters, how are they to be catered for?

The Forum asks, how practical and sustainable is this initiative bearing in mind that the government promised to do the same eight years ago when it came to power in 2003? With just a few months to 2012, the next election year, we must hope that there is no political interests in the move, bearing in mind that that the population of women in Kenya stands at 52%.

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Raila Odinga Speech at the CSIS Washington DC, USA

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