The menstrual cycle is a monthly process that every woman and adolescent girl experiences in their lifetime. When the cycle starts, a normal cycle takes roughly 10 to 12 days but for women with medical complications, it can last for weeks. These days, hygiene takes the utmost importance to keep the woman healthy and avoid complications that may arise from infections.
Menstrual hygiene and care for girls and women in Kakuma Refugee Camp have been a challenge due to some of the following factors: water scarcity, poverty, cultural beliefs, and inaccessible resources. Within the camp, local and foreign for-profit-systems and Non-Governmental Organizations have done recommendable works to ensure refugee families have access to water points, health centers, menstrual materials, and information pertaining to reproductive health, reducing the impact of the factors stated above.
Throughout the camp, water towers, large and small have been set up within and outside to ensure water is available all year round. However, this cannot compare to homes with 24/7 access to water in a year. Unrestricted access to water permits constant and daily hygiene practices during menstruation, a luxury not attainable for many women & girls living in Kakuma refugee camp.
Because of this, a hindrance has been placed on certain menstrual materials, making their promotion within the camp difficult. This, in particular, refers to re-washable sanitary towels, menstrual cups, and tampons. All these materials require frequent use of water before and after use- especially, those inserted into the body. An alternative to this is the disposable sanitary towels- an option that has its own challenges too. Disposable sanitary towels pose sustainability and environmental issues for it’s a monthly purchase and has been associated with poor disposal practices.
This is where menstrual hygiene education comes in. By teaching girls how to safely dispose of menstrual towels or products, instances of improper disposal will decrease. Also, regardless of intermittent access to water within the camp, menstrual care knowledge imparted to women and girls empowers them to go above and beyond to cater to their hygiene. There have been instances of women dedicating specific water jerry cans for their period days, hence, keeping themselves clean throughout that time of the month.
It's been a challenge for community-based organizations and NGOs in Kakuma to find long-term solutions to menstrual hygiene and care for refugee women and girls. Nonetheless, we still aspire to inspire more young women and girls to prioritize their menstrual hygiene to preserve their menstrual health by giving them working alternatives through menstrual care workshops.
The fact remains, that teaching current young girls how to take care of their bodies during menstruation, is building a community of future women who can pass on the 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, young men and adolescent boys should also be included in the conversation. There have been stories of adolescent girls being shamed or excluded from school games or activities by peers. Partly, this may be due to a lack of understanding of the menstrual cycle and health, or cultural practices perpetuated by patriarchal traditions. Practices that exclude women and girls from joining community, religious, or family events during menstruation as they are seen as unclean. Such misinformation has caused menstruation to be labeled as a shameful thing in some tribes. Thus, molding an erred psyche of both genders as they grow up.
Over the years, menstrual hygiene and care
have grown to become a crucial part of sexual and reproductive health in female empowerment. The battle against false perceptions of menstruation is still ongoing. On the bright side, volunteers and aid workers are tactically training communities on periods and reproductive health to reduce the stigma around menstrual care and menstruation itself and promote female body autonomy. Not only that but also including men and young boys in menstrual and reproductive health conversations to effect general change on biased traditional customs in all patriarchal African societies.