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Menstruation issues a neglected human right, activists say


Earlier this week the Star posted a blog on the millions of women and girls in Kenya who are too poor to buy sanitary products.

Hundreds of thousands of girls are missing nearly six weeks of school every year because they don't have any pads. Without them girls are reusing fabrics or tissues, even rugs, but they don't work and can cause infections. 

Megan White Mukuria, the founder of the charitable group ZanaAfrica -- an organization trying to bring affordable sanitary pads to East African Women -- believes access to these products are a basic human right.

But when most people are asked what they believe are basic human rights, sanitary pads and tampons don't normally crack the top ten - yet for girls and women in Kenya, lack of access is a serious problem that causes them to miss weeks of school and work every year.

"Menstruation has been neglected in the human rights field primarily because it is a comprehensive development issue that cross-cuts multiple development silos such as education, public health, reproductive health, water and sanitation," Mukuria told the Star in an email.

"The holistic nature of the issue has led to a lack of action because no single agency or field is squarely accountable for proper menstrual management."

Pads and menstruation education aren't top of mind for a number of reasons including cultural taboos and the belief that menstruation is a "women's" issue, she added.

"Currently men dominate business and politics, and often quickly dismiss menstruation as a serious policy issue. Also, the hardware of pads/tampons is in large part separated from education on reproductive health. This separation has led to an unfortunate failure to provide women adequate and easily accessible information needed to manage their menstruation," she said.

ZanaAfrica has been working on changing attitudes surrounding women's periods in Kenya for the last several years and the group is making inroads. Recently, the Kenyan Legislative Assembly passed a resolution urging partner states to waive taxes on sanitary pads in the region to increase their affordability, she said.

And, as part of ZanaAfrica's initiative to bring inexpensive products to women and make sure women get them - the group launched a tracking app in February called The Nia Network. Nia means "purpose" in Kiswahili. This is the first app in the world that tracks sanitary pad distribution, she added.

In 2012, the ZanaAfrica tracked 18 distributors supporting 258,014 girls in 2,501 schools, according to a policy paper put out by the group. The girls received 2,273,337 packets of sanitary pads and 933,059 pairs of underpants.

ZanaAfrica, working with Grand Challenges Canada and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wants to make sure no female in Kenya misses a day of school of work because they have their period and nothing to wear.

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga



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