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Sanitary Towels=Education

On June 3rd, 2011, the Forum posted an article entitled, ‘HEALTH, SELF-ESTEEM, EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITY – SANITARY TOWELS ARE A SERIOUS ISSUE’, applauding the government’s effort to make sure girls in Kenya stay in school by providing them with free sanitary towels.

Studies have shown that many girls in Kenya miss up to a week of school every month during menstruation due to lack of sanitary towels. Ask any teacher and they will tell you, a girl without access to sanitary towels feels embarrassed, unhygienic and uncomfortable, she also loses self esteem and with that the confidence to interact with her classmates, or with teachers in the classroom.

Sanitary towels, therefore, are a serious education issue in Kenya.

A girl absent from school for four days in 28 days (a month) loses 13 learning days equivalent to two weeks of learning in every school term. In an academic year (nine months) a girl loses 39 learning days equivalent to six weeks of learning time. A girl in primary school between grades 6 and 8 (three years) loses 18 learning weeks out of 108 weeks. Within the four years of high school a girl can lose 156 learning days equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning in High school!

So when the Prime Minister ordered two ministries to start providing sanitary towels to Kenyan students from July this year and asked the Ministry of Education to liaise with the Ministry of Public Health to provide the towels in all public schools from the next financial year, it was good news for everyone who was concerned with this issue, not least approximately 50 per cent of students in our schools.

When the Finance Minister, for the first time ever, allocated $3M from the current national budget to cater for the free sanitary pads, the programme was scheduled to commence this term and seemed set to go.


The Forum had however, in the same article, questioned the sustainability of this initiative bearing in mind the government‘s failure to implement the programme for the first time as promised when it came to power in 2003. It didn’t come as a surprise therefore, when the Ministry of Education announced earlier in the week that the programme, which was to start last month, will now be rolled out in January instead, due to a shortage of funds.

According to the education Permanent Secretary James Ole Kiyapi, the initial allocation of Ksh 300 million would only cater for 500, 000 girls yet the ministry targeted a million learners. As reported by the Daily Nation on Monday October 3, 2011 the government needs Sh 1.6bn annually for the supply of sanitary towels to poor girls.

As the government appeals to donors to step in and support the project we can’t help recalling how our dear honorable members of parliament raided money set aside for relief operations and other national emergencies to settle their tax arrears two months ago.  If only the poor girls, who have to miss school when it’s that time of the month again, could also tell Mother Nature to go for a vacation until January, then maybe they could just wait patiently for the government to keep their word.

In the meantime, not only is this bad news for poorer girls in school in Kenya, it also means, as one website campaigning for sanitary towels in our schools put it, ‘Kenya is unlikely to achieve Education for All (EFA) goals and gender parity by 2015 or the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

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October 2011
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