Periods in western Kenya

What People In Western Kenya Think About Periods

Understanding the period experience in a cultural context.

鈥淢enstruation is the only blood that is not born from violence, yet it鈥檚 the one that disgusts you the most鈥 鈥 From a聽sign聽posted at the Women鈥檚 Day protest march

For reasons beyond my understanding, nearly every culture seems to have a problem with periods. In many countries, this sign of a healthy cycle is considered 鈥渦nclean鈥, and women are being ostracised for going through it.

Period product for a zero waste period

In the West, this presents itself in an almost clinical approach to this very natural experience. We have all seen the 鈥渂lue liquid鈥 ads, with their beautiful clean sheets, light summer dresses and big white smiles.

In other places, it鈥檚 not unheard of for women to be聽isolated聽from their community during five to ten days out of a month. They have to sleep outside, in 鈥渄og houses鈥. I can鈥檛 even begin to imagine what that does to a person鈥檚 psyche, let alone their confidence in their own body鈥

Person in Kisumu rural Kenya learning about menstrual cups
People in Kisumu rural Kenya with their first menstrual cups

To understand the period experience of girls in Western Kenya in a cultural context, we visited a few schools in rural Kisumu. The girls there were quite open and willing to share their stories, partly thanks to the work of the Golden Girls Foundation in breaking the taboo of talking about the menses. Here are a few insights into what living with their menstruation is like for Kenyan school girls:

Some learn about periods from their families, some in school

鈥淚 remember I saw my sister had a stain on her back. I asked what happened to her. My mother took the time and explained to me that every woman reaches a point where she must start experiencing the menses. She also told me about the tools, like pads. And that if you don鈥檛 have pads, you can use a rag, wash it clean and dry it. Then you fold it and use it.鈥

鈥淚 learned it from my science teacher when he was teaching reproduction in class six.鈥

鈥淚 saw my aunt put on a white trouser, the blood was running down her leg. My aunt went to the bathroom, I followed her and asked her about it, but she didn鈥檛 answer my questions. I was afraid for her; I didn鈥檛 know what disease she had. I really wanted to cry, because I loved my aunt. I went to my mother: 鈥楳um, my aunt is sick!鈥 My mother explained to me it was just a stage that I was also going to pass.鈥

Others have never even heard about periods when they first have them

鈥淵ou know, sitting down with your guardian or your mum is very difficult.鈥

鈥淚 asked my sister about her pads: 鈥榃hat are these now? And what are they meant for?鈥 She was always laughing at me. 鈥極ne day, you鈥檒l also reach that stage.鈥欌

鈥淲hen it happened, I was in class six. I was shaking, I wanted to go to the hospital. I took a sweater and tied it around my waist. I asked for permission and I went back home. I shared it with my grandma, she just laughed at me, and I was crying, freaking out. I asked her to give me one hundred shillings so I could go to the hospital. She told me to just be patient, maybe after three, four days it would be over. And now it would every month. I got so scared.鈥

There are a lot of myths around periods and Ruby Cups

鈥淪ome parents have not even gone to school. They think Ruby Cup is made from plastic, and that you shouldn鈥檛 put it in your body.鈥

鈥淢y aunt told me that Ruby Cup can cause cancer. Even my sister, who鈥檚 a nurse, told me it can cause diseases.鈥

鈥淚 heard that if you put it in, the vagina will expand.鈥

Sometimes, they can鈥檛 afford hygiene products and have to get creative.

鈥淚 used to use two packs of sanitary pads per month. That is a lot of money.鈥

鈥淪ometimes the parents can鈥檛 afford hygiene products, so the girls find boyfriends who will buy them sanitary products in exchange for sex.鈥

鈥淏efore we tried Ruby Cup, it was a bit expensive. We would use blankets, towels, mattress filling, tissues鈥 Some months, you鈥檙e broke and your mother is not around. So you work with what you鈥檝e got.鈥

Ruby Cup takes a little getting used to but makes their life so much easier.

鈥淲hen I showed the cup to the neighborhood girls, they said 鈥榊ou are going to put that thing inside you? I can鈥檛 use that!鈥欌

鈥淢y aunt wanted to take mine, but I didn鈥檛 give it to her.鈥

鈥淲hen you use it for the first time, you somehow feel very guilty. You think there鈥檚 something inside you, and what if it drops? Like in a crowd? But that was just because I wasn鈥檛 used to it.鈥

鈥淭he sanitary pads felt itchy. I couldn鈥檛 swim, I couldn鈥檛 do sports. And I had to change them so much. Now I can do everything.鈥

鈥淪ometimes you鈥檇 have to go home and take a bath. Now people don鈥檛 stain themselves anymore.鈥

People in Kisumu rural Kenya speaking about periods

These quotes were recorded during interviews at Joyland Mixed Special Needs Secondary School, Ayweyo Secondary School, Pawtenge Secondary School, and St. Peter鈥檚 Nanga Secondary School in Masogo, Kenya.


Ruth Asan (28) is a writer and political communication consultant from Germany. She has worked and studied in Berlin, Spain and Kenya. Most recently, she became co-founder of the Savara Women鈥檚 Advancement Program (SaWA), a training and mentorship program for young women from Nairobi.

Ruth Asan
Buy period cup with donation included
Regresar al blog