For many girls and young women living in informal settlements, menstruation comes at a cost. Buying sanitary towels is a challenge but in addition to this, many girls also have to pay to access bathrooms. Most bathroom facilities in the area charge USD 15 cents to use the services, so for a girl to use it once a day, they will need to spend around 1 USD over the course of a week which is hard to find when you have limited means.
Jacinta, 15, lives in one of the densely populated informal settlements in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. For her, the challenge of menstrual hygiene management goes beyond just accessing sanitary pads.
“We wash only once a day or not at all because of the expense that come with washing two or three times a day. Having to pay for the bathroom services as well as buying sanitary towels is a financial strain for many of us,” says Jacinta
Families living in the informal settlements struggle to make ends meet. Food, rent and day to day needs have become even harder to pay for since the coronavirus outbreak. Most people are relying on their meagre savings to survive. The choice between putting food on the table and accessing washing facilities and sanitary materials, means that often girls have to go without adequate sanitation amenities.
“Times are hard for us as parents, COVID-19 has robbed us of the time and space to work. My small business was booming but now my income has fallen by 80%. There are fewer customers and those who come take items and pay later which means that I often incur losses,” says Jemimah, Jacinta’s mother who runs a market stall selling vegetables.
“As a mother of three children I am finding it hard to support their needs. My two girls need sanitary towels every month, they need water to bathe and clothes to wear, there are so many competing priorities. This is entirely my responsibility because their father is also without a source of income. If something is not done, we will all perish.”
As part of our response to COVID-19, Plan International’s ‘Safe and Inclusive Cities’ project has come up with an initiative dubbed ‘Shower for girls’ which pays for girls to access bathroom services in the settlements.
“The gesture that Plan International has showed to us has greatly eased our burden. We are able to use the bathroom more than once a day and this is a huge relief. My menstrual hygiene was at stake and this was the case for many other girls. This project has saved us from mockery and shame. Boys used to mock and call us names because of not bathing. Some of them insinuated that we were smelling, and this lowered our self-esteem and confidence.” Jacinta explains.
“There is very little privacy in informal settlements, and it takes courage to go through such kinds of mockery, those who are not empowered may end up hating themselves and even suffering depression or committing suicide. Life was better before COVID-19 because we used to get the essential supplies we needed from our schools, but now we are all at home.”
Jemimah is well used to the challenges that menstrual hygiene brings to girls from the area and is grateful for the help her daughter is receiving. “Many girls are suffering in silence, getting sanitary towels is hard for them and they end up resorting to alternatives, which are dangerous to their health. Some use pieces of clothes and others source financial help from men, which in the end comes with consequences.”
“Plan international’s Shower for girl’s initiative has greatly helped us and many other girls and their families. As a mother, it was very difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I am unable to adequately provide for my children. So, this is a huge relief for me,” says Jemimah.
Plan International is proud to be a member of the Irish Emergency Alliance – six leading Irish charities who have come together to respond to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic in some of the world’s poorest and most fragile regions.
With cases and deaths rising exponentially across the world, the Irish Emergency Alliance has united to respond on the ground in seven countries already grappling with conflict, massive numbers of refugees and displaced people, extreme poverty and poorer health infrastructure.
Kenya is of the seven countries we are focusing on in our Coronavirus Appeal.
The Irish Emergency Alliance is made up of ActionAid, Christian Aid, Plan International, Self Help Africa, Tearfund and World Vision. You can support the work of the Irish Emergency Alliance so that we can save more lives together.
Please donate at www.irishemergencyalliance.org , by calling 1 800 939 979 or by texting IEA to 50300 to give €4.