South Africa can afford free, high quality education

Kenya: Free sanitary napkins for school girls

In some African countries, menstruation for women and girls and the use of sanitary towels are taboo. In addition, many families simply cannot afford the overspend for sanitary napkins. It is not an isolated case that female pupils miss a large part of the class during their menstrual period. That is about to change in Kenya. Sanitary napkins are to be available free of charge in schools in the future.

Free sanitary napkins by law

The Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a law last June that is supposed to implement the distribution of free sanitary towels in schools. What is more, the law “obliges” the state's schools to provide “free, adequate and high quality sanitary towels” for every girl registered in the school. The law thus helps break taboos and financially relieve poor families. In some African countries, sanitary napkins are an expensive luxury product that is not infrequently - to the detriment of women and girls - not included in the monthly household budget. The new law was well received by many Kenyans. Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said in the course of the new legislation: "We treat access to sanitary pads as a basic human right."

Higher educational opportunities for female students

During menstruation, women who do not have access to sanitary napkins can hardly leave home or go to work. As a result, young women and girls often cannot go to school during this time. At least one in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstruation, according to the United Nations Education Agency. As a result of this fact, some students lose more than 20 percent of their school education. Ultimately, the girls affected increase the risk of failing to graduate from school. In addition, there is a strong stigmatization of girls and women as well as a health risk from poor hygiene during menstruation. Thanks to the free access to sanitary towels, the situation for the affected schoolgirls in the East African country is now improving considerably and the educational opportunities are increasing.

Crowdfunding and workshops by activists, menstrual cups as an alternative

It is true that the provision of free sanitary napkins is often a topic of election campaigns in various African countries, but in retrospect, elected governments often fail to finance their promises. In Uganda, too, there is a lack of government measures to support the poorest families in particular with regard to access to sanitary towels. Here it is primarily non-governmental organizations and activists who take part in providing free sanitary towels and other hygiene products for schoolgirls through donations and crowdfunding campaigns or offering workshops in which young women and girls learn to make sanitary napkins themselves. As an alternative to the conventional disposable sanitary napkins, the so-called menstrual cups are also used in African countries. This collects the menstrual blood in the woman's vagina and can be worn for up to 12 hours. The menstrual cup, which is mostly made of medical silicone, can then be emptied in the toilet. In addition, menstrual cups are not only cheaper in the long term, but also more environmentally friendly, as they can be used for up to 10 years.

Implementation and problems

In Kenya, the government is now providing 500 million shillings (around 4.3 million euros) annually for the implementation of the free distribution of sanitary towels. However, whether the example from Kenya can serve as an inspiration for other countries will also be related to the extent to which the new law is actually implemented in reality and how the obstacles that have arisen in the past can be overcome. Because at schools that had already issued sanitary towels on a voluntary basis before the law, there were repeated thefts or young girls did not dare to ask the male teaching staff about sanitary towels. Above all, the respective school administrators who are responsible for purchasing and distributing the free sanitary towels will have to find solutions.


Photo: Laura Pannack / Oxfam | CC BY 2.0