Speak 31 aims to relieve poverty, meet critical physical and socio-emotional needs and improve the health and education of the people in impoverished villages and slum communities in Kenya. In part, this will be achieved by implementing Menstrual Hygiene Management, providing eco-friendly reusable sanitary pads that are locally and ethically sourced, along with training in their manufacture to provide long-term income generation within the communities, and hygiene education.
Sanitary pads are expensive and beyond the means of most households. As a result, many girls will manage their menstruation with strips of material or newspaper, leaves or sticks. These methods are ineffective, uncomfortable and carry a high potential for infection and disease. The bloody rag or newspaper is then chucked into the street or river, spreading disease – the worst of which is HIV.
Girls usually miss school when they menstruate – either because they are too embarrassed to go or, very often, because they are considered too unclean to attend.
Centuries old and deep-rooted beliefs of women being impure and unclean during menstruation dictates that women are not allowed near livestock during this time for fear that they may contaminate the animals. It is believed that the animals will die if the women even drink their milk. At weddings they must sit in a separate area and men will not go near their wives whilst she is menstruating.
Menstruation is considered a taboo topic and women and girls believe that it is something to feel shame about, something to keep hidden and something that is a source of humiliation.
Addressing the issue of menstruation through health education, positive reinforcement and the provision of management materials reduces these gender specific barriers and empowers women and girls, allowing them to participate fully in day to day life, allow themselves to have a full education and throw off the stigma that surrounds menstruation in the majority of communities.
Photo by Edward Echwalu