Interview with Golda Ayodo and Ben Obera, founders of Golden Girls - Ruby Cup partners since 2013.
How were the Golden Girls born?
In 2010, I was invited to a Primary School as a guest during a prize giving day. Prize giving day was an event in the school to reward pupils who have performed well academically. The number of girls in the reward list was minimal as compared to their male counterparts. On asking, I was informed that the girls were not working hard in school and were always dropping out of school. Then, at the school, out of the 30+ students, only 7 girls were in class 8 getting ready to sit for the national examination (KCPE). I had a session with these girls to discuss challenges that face them. They mentioned quite a number of issues including challenges in handling their menses making them skip school at least one week every month, lots of responsibilities given to them at home limiting their time to study, lack of enough paraffin to fuel lighting to allow them do homework at night, lack of books, school uniform and the low esteem in the girls was very noticeable.
I made a visit to all their homes and had a chat with their parents to address these issues. I also solicited support from my friends to support the girls with menses management tools, school uniforms, school books and solar lamps. Surprisingly at the end of the year when they were sitting their national examinations, out of the 5 subjects they are tested on the girls topped up in 4 of the subjects! This was a first for girls in this village. The following year, so many parents brought their daughters to this school till the ratio of students to teachers was worrying.
The community then asked me to move to two other schools as some of the girls attending this school had to trek from very far to attend school. I took up the challenge and through the schools, identified outstanding women in the community with whom together we were trained on mentorship. Each of these women was given a number of girls within the schools to follow up on. At the end of the year the girls performed exceptionally well and the community again asked us to move further and so the story goes.
We are now in more than 50 schools advocating education for sustainable development to have a better society of empowered girls and women who can be linked to opportunities that enhance their chances of success in creating socio economically conscious families.
Golden Girls Foundation was therefore formed in 2010 and formally registered as a Society under the Kenyan Laws in 2011.
Why a menstrual activist?
Ideally, all women should have ready access to the range of menstrual products available in the market to enable them to pick from the array of selection available. For this to happen, there ought to be no taxes charged on the menstrual products, the products should be purchased at an affordable pricing set by market forces, women ought to be well informed on the variety of products available and be educated on their usage and the financing options available to enable them to determine the products to use regardless of their economic status. However, this is not the case as the broad range of menstrual products available in the market is selectively accessible to a section of women depending on their economic status.
Studies indicate that the majority of women and girls in rural areas use homemade alternatives as a primary or secondary method for managing their periods while the majority of their counterparts in urban areas use disposable sanitary pads.
46% of the population in rural areas use disposable sanitary pads compared to 65% in urban areas (Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy, 2019). Studies also indicate that 65% of Kenyan school girls across the country use homemade alternatives as primary or secondary solution to manage their menses. A survey done by Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Heart Education found that 42% of Kenyan school girls have never used sanitary pads, and instead use alternatives such as rags, blankets, pieces of mattress, tissue paper, and cotton wool. 75% of women in rural western Kenya use commercial pads as a primary or secondary method and 25% use traditional materials exclusively (Geertz Alexandra, Lyer Lakshmi, Kasen Perri, Mazzola Francesca, 2016). Recent studies indicate that girls in western Kenya aged 15 or younger are willing to engage in transactional sex to get sanitary pads.(PhillipsHoward et al., 2016.)
This gloomy picture accelerates my interest in the menses issues.
I decided to become a menstrual activist in 2010, when I first encountered girls who were dropping out of school because they cannot manage their menstruation properly because of cultural barriers, asymmetric information and lack of menstrual interventions.
Women with no education, no meaningful source of income, living in informal settlements or rural areas with no proper means to manage their menses are condemned to a poverty cycle. With proper menarche management, this poverty cycle can be broken.
Are periods Political?
In Kenya, national statistics shows that 50% of Kenyans are women. Menstruation is a natural process that all voting women undergo unfortunately; menstrual products come at a cost. Kenya has however made great strides to enable women access menstrual products. In 2004, Kenya repealed value added tax on menstrual products in a bid to make menstrual products accessible. In 2011, Kenyan Treasury pumped an estimated Kshs. 1.9 billion into a free sanitary towels schools’ program aimed at benefiting 11.2 million school girls in marginalized and rural areas. 1n 2013, Kenya is one of the few countries that developed a menstrual hygiene policy document addressing menstrual health to enhance the status of girls and women to enable them contribute towards their full potential in national development.
Why Menstrual cups to manage menstruation sustainably?
Menstrual cup is environment friendly, made of medical grade silicone, is convenient, no disposal inconveniences, is reusable and durable as it lasts for up to 10 years. Studies also show that compared to other menstrual products; there is a low risk of bacterial vaginois when using a menstrual cup. (PhillipsHoward et al., 2016.)
How culturally acceptable and sustainable is the use of menstrual cups?
Culturally, the use of menstrual cups still faces lots of challenges in some areas. During my distributions of menstrual cups, religious and cultural barriers are still a big hindrance in Turkana, Samburu and Coastal parts of Kenya. However, we have been making gradual progress.
Early this year, we managed to sensitize students and mothers in Turkana (971 women were willing to try Ruby cups) and in Samburu (598 women were willing to try the Ruby cups).
In comparison with other menstrual products, the menstrual cup is cheaper in the long run as it is a one off cost that lasts for up to 10 years. Costal implications of using a disposable sanitary towel and a menstrual cup show that it is eventually cost effective to buy a menstrual cup than the continued unending purchasing cycle of disposable sanitary towels.
Disposable sanitary towels averagely cost Kshs. 50 for a pack of 8. Most women would need 2 packs monthly. Therefore annually, it costs Kshs. 1200. With reference to the situational analysis by the Ministry of health that reveals the median age for menarche stands at 14.4 years. For a lifespan of 50 years it would cost Kshs. 43,200. Compared to a menstrual cup that retails for approximately, Kshs. 3500 and lasts for up to 10 years. Based on the earlier assumption of women menstruating for 36 years, the total cost of the menstrual cups would be Ksh. 12600. Total savings would be Kshs. 30600. Investing in one menstrual cup that lasts for 10 years would therefore be equivalent to 70 packets of sanitary towels that would only serve for approximately 3 years and would also create a disposing problem.
Most challenging experience working at Golden Girls
Breaking barriers and taboos set for women, and convincing women that having menses does not make them dirty and impure.
There are myths that are so ingrained in the society that getting some of the women to break them is quite tasking.
Golden Girls Foundation gave a team of women a greenhouse to enable them generate income and feed their families, these women still had to employ a man because they strongly believe that during their menses they cannot enter into the green house as the crops will wither. The project failed. - Golda, Golden Girls Founder
I have seen our mentors transform from the shy, timid and unsure women they were before to the confident trail blazers whose counsel is sought in the community. These women have been bold enough to face the threats facing them and the girls without flinching, leading to an improvement in their welfare and academic performance for the girls. - Ben, Golden Girls Founder
Most rewarding experience working at Golden Girls
Seeing women who were previously helpless and without hope transform into women who are self-confident and economically self-reliant reaching out to support other women who are in similar dismal situations and giving them hope to get out of poverty they find themselves entrenched in.
How can we help make societal change
Every community has resources/assets in the people, infrastructure and community structures that can enable them to improve their lives. However, many of these communities have yet to internalise that development can start and be sustained by what they have.
As a global community, we need to continually help each community to uncover their local assets and use them for their own development.