This blog series is part of our celebration of International Women’s Month.
Each piece is written by a Women, Girls & Global Justice intern.
Story by Erin East
In many parts of the world there are things that we take for granted: iPhones, Wi-Fi, central heating, cars, and plenty of other things. One embarrassing ‘problem’ that is often overlooked because of its somewhat taboo nature: periods. Periods! Menstruation! Aunt Flo! Whatever you want to call it, women and girls in much of the industrialized world can run out to CVS and grab a pack of tampons when they’re in need. Compared to other parts of the world where periods are so taboo that women are made to sleep with the goats when they are menstruating, we take that easy run to CVS for granted. When women at the University of Virginia are menstruating it is an inconvenience for sure- there are cramps, bloating, headaches, and other general discomforts. But our reality is that our periods do not interfere with our daily life. The option of going to school is still very much a reality. We are not made to sleep with goats. We have products and methods to control our bleeding and conquer the inconvenience of menstruation so life can continue as normally as possible. And in a week’s time, we get some reprieve and have three blissful weeks that are period-free.
For many girls and women in the world, this is a luxury they are not afforded. They lack the resources to control their menstruation. So when Aunt Flo visits, that’s it, their week is on hold. No school, no socializing- girls are made to stay home, the only place that they can manage their period. These girls are ill-equipped to manage bleeding away from home and are uneducated about what starting to menstruate means. These problems often lead to girls dropping out of school much more often and earlier than boys. In Kenya alone, after puberty begins, girls are twice as likely to drop out of school than boys are.
ZanaAfrica is an organization that is trying to stop this cycle. They produce sustainable, low-cost sanitary products at locally employed factories and sell these products at a reduced rate to the girls in their program. They educate the girls in their program through creative health comics. The comics are written by ZanaAfrica and are created with input from the girls they are servicing about what they want to see in literature. The resulting product is a representative experience that features a young Kenyan girl named Nia who is going through puberty with these girls and teaches them about their bodies and reproductive health.
ZanaAfrica was founded in 2007 by Megan White Mukuria, and has made amazing progress in the field of menstrual health for women and girls in Eastern Africa. Mukuria is creating a sustainable process for managing menstrual health and keeping girls in school. In 2015 alone, 10,000 girls benefited from ZanaAfrica programs leading to 600,000 reclaimed school days. 95% of those girls reported being better able to manage their periods enough to stay in school while menstruating. Mukuria’s vision of change is building a cohort of educated and empowered young women to stay in school and get as much out of their education as possible.
Megan White Mukuria is a Greenwich, Connecticut native, an Ashoka fellow, and Harvard alumna. She has worked with Homeless Child International before moving her attention to menstrual health in Kenya. In 2006 she launched the National Sanitary Towels Campaign in Kenya, which paved the way for ZanaAfrica. She participates on panels and in seminars that focus on health and education for girls in East Africa.
CC Image courtesy of Kris Krug of Pop Tech on Flickr.