Benter Oyugi is from the Mathare Slum of Nairobi, Kenya. She is one of the first beneficiaries of Femme International’s Menstrual Health Management Program that distributes Menstrual Kits and Ruby Cups. Benter is now working with the Femme team as a Program Facilitator.
What would you do if you wanted to go to school but knew you were out of pads and had no money to buy a new pack? Would you skip school? Or still, go to class but have old newspapers, dry tree bark or kitchen cloths somehow stuffed in your underwear to absorb the flow?
Millions of girls and women worldwide who can’t afford the monthly pads or tampons, are forced to take this decision.
We had the honour to sit down with Benter, a woman who grew up with the struggle of affording decent menstrual care products and listen to her story first hand.
We met at Star of Hope, a school in Mathare North, Nairobi, just before she started work. We sat down in the teacher’s room while the younger school kids were playing outside.
She educates young girls in different schools throughout Mathare about menstruation, female anatomy and safe menstrual health management with reusable products. The workshop presents a solution she now uses herself: menstrual cups.
“My name is Benter Oyugi. I was born here in Mathare. I was raised by my mum, who is a single mother because my father passed on when I was four months old only.”
This left her family in a difficult situation, which turned even worse when she started menstruating. Pads are a costly thing if your income is minimal. The average daily income for unskilled labourers is around 1-1.5 USD. One pack of pads, on average, costs 0.8 USD. This makes purchasing menstrual products a financial struggle each month for thousands of women in this region alone.
The constant fear of not having enough money for the next pack of pads was very stressful. She continues:
“Before, menstruation was something I did not even want to hear about, it was a very hectic time for me. Each and every month I was having so many problems, like, where will I get the money to get sanitary pads? At times I was forced to stay at home because of the menses, I was not able to go and do what my friends were doing so it was challenging for me back then.”
“Each and every month I was having so many problems, like, where will I get the money to get sanitary pads?”
How do you decide whether you go to school with unsafe improvised materials or just stay at home? Both choices come with their consequences. The fear of leaking through their school uniform and the shame that comes from a period stain paralyzes them and affects their participation in class - if they decide to go when on their periods. Consequently, from the moment they start menstruating, the academic performance of most girls declines.
Menstruation as a socio-economic burden
Unfortunately, many girls see no other option than to stay at home. Not only to escape the shame of staining their clothes but also because a lack of alternatives forces many into menstrual management solutions that do not permit them to leave their house.
“One woman told us a story right here in Mathare. Each and every month she would use sand. She would take sand, put it in a tin and then she would sit there, the whole day.”
“She would take sand, put it in a tin and then she would sit there, the whole day.”
- Benter explaining how a woman in Mathare manages her period
“They put the sand or flour in a container and sit on it because it is absorbent. So you cannot go to school or attend to your business.”
The vicious circle of poverty, periods and education
Staying home from school three to four days every month takes its toll on the academic performance of girls, which might even lead to them dropping out.
One in 10 Schoolgirls in Africa misses school or drops out altogether because of her period.
How to break the vicious circle
Benter, who in the past was struggling with the consequences of unaffordable menstrual health products, is now a menstrual health educator, teaching girls a sustainable solution for safe menstrual health management.
After our interview, she headed to the classroom next door. It was crowded with girls, whose period-related worries were about to take a new direction.
The next two hours they were part of an engaging reproductive health workshop, where they learned about the female anatomy, harmful menstrual myths were busted and they were taught how to use a Ruby Cup.
A menstrual cup can keep girls in school during their period, lighten the economic burden for them and their families and it gives them self-confidence and improves school grades.
Having a Ruby Cup can disrupt the vicious circle of poverty. It offers girls a safe and sustainable menstrual solution for years to come. Since Ruby Cup is reusable for ten years, just one cup can provide a girl with safe menstrual protection throughout her entire academic career.