The menstrual cycle is a natural monthly process experienced by every woman and adolescent girl. In a typical cycle, it spans approximately 10 to 12 days, though for women with medical complications, it can extend for weeks. During this time, prioritizing cleanliness becomes crucial to ensure reproductive health and prevent complications that may arise from unhygienic conditions.
Menstrual hygiene and care for girls and women in Kakuma Refugee Camp face challenges due to factors such as water scarcity, poverty, cultural beliefs, and limited resources. Nevertheless, humanitarian actors within the camp have undertaken commendable efforts. They are continuing to work to ensure refugee families access water points, health centers, menstrual materials, and reproductive health information, thereby managing the aforementioned challenges
Throughout the camp, both large and small water towers have been installed, both within and outside the premises, ensuring a year-round water supply. However, this still falls short of the 24/7 access to water that many homes enjoy. Unrestricted water access enables consistent and daily hygiene practices during menstruation, a luxury unattainable for numerous women and girls residing in the Kakuma refugee camp.
As a result, certain menstrual materials face hindrances in their promotion within the camp, especially re-washable sanitary towels, menstrual cups, and tampons. These materials necessitate frequent use of water before and after use, particularly those inserted into the body. An alternative to these reusable options is disposable sanitary towels, but this choice comes with its own set of challenges. Monthly purchases of disposable sanitary towels contribute to sustainability and environmental concerns and have been associated with poor disposal practices
This is where menstrual hygiene education becomes essential. By instructing girls on the safe disposal of menstrual towels or products, instances of improper disposal can be reduced. Moreover, despite intermittent access to water within the camp, imparting menstrual care knowledge to women and girls empowers them to proactively manage their hygiene. Instances exist of women dedicating specific water jerry cans for their period days, ensuring cleanliness throughout that time of the month.
Grassroots initiatives in Kakuma face the challenge of finding long-term solutions for menstrual hygiene and care for refugee women and girls. Nevertheless, the aspiration is to inspire more young women and girls to prioritize their menstrual hygiene, preserving their menstrual health by providing practical alternatives through menstrual care workshops.
The undeniable truth is that educating current young girls on caring for their bodies during menstruation is an investment in building a community of future women who can pass on menstrual healthcare practices to their children, friends, or siblings. It's about creating an unbreakable cycle of menstrual care and reproductive knowledge.
In the spirit of promoting menstrual hygiene and care, it is crucial to include young men and adolescent boys in the conversation. There have been instances of adolescent girls facing shame or exclusion from school games or activities by their peers. This may be attributed, in part, to a lack of understanding of the menstrual cycle and health or cultural practices perpetuated by patriarchal traditions. These practices often lead to the exclusion of women and girls from community, religious, or family events during menstruation, viewing them as unclean. Such misinformation has resulted in the labeling of menstruation as a shameful thing in some tribes, shaping an erroneous psyche for both genders as they grow up.
Over the years, menstrual hygiene and care have evolved to become a crucial component of sexual and reproductive health in female empowerment. The ongoing battle against false perceptions of menstruation is being actively addressed. Volunteers and aid workers are strategically training communities on periods and reproductive health to diminish the stigma surrounding menstrual care and menstruation itself. This effort includes not only educating women and girls but also involving men and young boys in menstrual and reproductive health conversations. This inclusive approach aims to bring about general change in biased traditional customs prevalent in patriarchal African societies.