I live in the outskirts of a town called Malindi. One of the many small towns located on the coastal regions of Kenya. As my norm, every month I visit the nearest supermarket within the town for some household shopping. The joy of walking around the supermarket with my trolley choosing what I want to purchase then pay with my hard-earned money is always exhilarating.
On this day, after an hour of window shopping, taking stock of what new products to add to my Wishlist because I cannot afford them yet (more reasons to work smart), I looked at my half empty shopping cart and with satisfaction headed towards the counter paid and left. I didn’t really go through the goods purchased as I usually do, to check what I bought against what I ought to have (measures I put in place to monitor closely my impulse buying behaviors’).
It didn’t come to my attention sooner that sanitary towels were not among the items, yet they definitively were on my shopping list. I quickly ran to check ‘my sanitary towels bank’ just to see if I’d get at least one pad even though I knew with certainty that I had exhausted my previous restock.
Knowing my younger brother was at the shopping center that day, I called and requested him to purchase one packet of sanitary towels knowing it would be enough to hold me until the next time I’d go for shopping. To my amazement, he wasn’t comfortable purchasing sanitary towels at the local shop. At first, I couldn’t get why he would refuse yet it’s a commodity like any other sold at the shop. Truth be told, nothing had prepared me for such a response.
So, I quickly reconciled my tension and started thinking of possible reasons that could have led to his refusal. It dawned on me that he had never purchased one before anywhere let alone at the local shop within our village where his peers might see him. I started becoming more aware of the fear and stigmatization that comes with people around you knowing you’re carrying sanitary towels.
I remembered the number of times I had to carefully wrap my sanitary pad in a tissue paper then handkerchief when going to change to avoid irking people around me. All in the wake of hiding the fact that I’m menstruating because growing up, it was always a secret thing women and girls went through alone without any family member knowing. Yes, a good number of girls I know of did not say immediately. They hid and managed it on their own for quite some time until they couldn’t anymore.
Up until recently, I’d feel ashamed of buying sanitary towels whenever I’d find many people queueing at the local shop. I would wait until everyone cleared out to order my sanitary towel in a hushed voice. Yet menstruation has always been a normal thing adolescent girls and women of reproductive age experience every month from time immemorial.
I couldn’t help but wonder, if this is what women still go through in most parts of the rural area, are we even ready to talk about male involvement in matters menstruation? Truth be told, most men have no understanding of the experiences women and girls have on menstruation, yet they spend all their lives around women either as their life partners, siblings or daughters. Most adolescent boys are not aware of what happens before babies are made other than the general knowledge they have.
Most men intentionally dissociate themselves with any conversation or purchase of anything menstrual. Those that are at least informed still undergo stigma from their fellow men and boys hence find it hard to sometimes openly educate fellow men and champion for matters menstrual hygiene management in our rural areas. Yet these are the same people who hold decision making positions in matters finances within their families where women and girls have to ask for their permission to purchase household and personal items including menstrual products.
Knowing that normalization of talks on menstruation goes a long way I took it upon myself as an elder sister, had a sit down with my brother and talked to him on matters of menstrual health management. To date, most menstrual health needs go unmet due to gender inequalities and cultural norms perpetuated by the society. Most women and girls experience menstruation in the most undignified and unhealthiest of ways which can be greatly reduced and eradicated when we adopt inclusive approaches in menstrual hygiene management as well as avail menstrual products to women and girls.
It’s time we fully embrace male involvement up to the grassroot level in menstrual hygiene management. There is need to educate both boys and girls, in school and in the community on this matter. Not just in theory the way science is brushed through in our primary school curriculum but intentionally offer in depth information while at it.
Let’s deliberately involve boys and men in our menstrual hygiene management awareness interventions as we normalize discussions on menstruation. I strongly believe that both male and females have to combine forces in this. Together challenge the status quo of myths and misconceptions that breed and allow fear, discomfort and shame during menstruation for girls. It is a natural phenomenon. Let’s aim to make it a normal fact of life by leaving no one behind.
Author: Lydia Furaha