Access to Menstrual Products in East Africa

by Femme International
Access to Menstrual Products in East Africa
Access to Menstrual Products in East Africa
Access to Menstrual Products in East Africa
Access to Menstrual Products in East Africa
Practical education
Practical education

Introduction 

Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is very important to all people within the community, knowing how important the goals are  Femme International has been working hard towards decreasing the problems that are hindering girls and women in menstrual health management. Given the challenges of Covid 19, Femme International has extended her activities to boys, men and parents, to cover the gap seen during covid 19 due to lack of enough information about menstrual health.  As it was found in Subsaharan Africa parents, relatives and teachers are the main source of information for adolescents. However, the relatives and parents are not well informed and some of them are uncomfortable discussing puberty, reproduction and menstruation.  Following our experience in working with other regions in Tanzania, Femme has expanded her activities to a new location around the lake zone in Mwanza region, the program involves boys and girls, as the findings show there's a need for education on menstrual management and sexual health & reproductive rights. Not only that but also the menstruation and sexual health reproductive health right training program extended to teen mum as we focused to help mum and future generations that will be raised by those mums. Training has been conducted to students and the normal style of collecting data from students in school through questionnaires has been used in six months check-in. 



TWAWEZA MENSTRUAL HEALTH WORKSHOPS 

This quarter we focused on providing education to all students (boys and girls) and adults. In the Twaweza program in the Kilimanjaro region, about 60 (35F, 25M) students were taught about sexual reproductive health and menstruation, while in Mwanza about 215 (8OM, 135F) students were taught SRHR and menstruation. The training conducted in Mwanza gave Femme another eye on how to solve menstrual problems as many of the students’ boys and girls have little knowledge in SHRH and menstruation, hence more investment of time and money is needed to help the students in SRHR and menstruation issues. 

Not only that, but also in  Kenya, in this quarter Femme focused mostly on teenage mums who wish to go back to school and others to join courses like tailoring and hairdressing. We reached a total of 100 teenage mums to get access to education on menstruation and sexual reproductive health and mostly how their bodies work in terms of the menstrual cycle, safe days, and contraceptives. The important discussion that came from these workshops was for the teenage mums to love themselves, their bodies, and the children that they are now raising. We believe that the education and menstrual products provided to them will better their future and the future of their children, hence realizing the dream of reducing period poverty. 

Together with Kariobangi Social Justice Centre, we also created awareness on children’s rights and the role of the community and parents in giving the right information on menstruation and sexual reproductive health to both girls and boys, Our main goal in the event was to bridge the gap that still exists when it comes to Freedom and safety when talking about menstruation and sexual reproductive health education. We reached a total of 30 girls who all received washable pads, We believe that with the discussion we had, we help reduce teenage pregnancy as these girls now have the right information on menstruation and sexual reproductive health, where to seek help or treatment when needed and talk freely to their parents or guardians on the topic.

As we are still going through the Pandemic Phase, In Kenya, Femme International decided to collect data on individual beneficiaries that have gone through menstrual health workshops, the data is collected through M&E online form that the beneficiaries fill. This is to maintain a social distance but still keep in touch with the beneficiaries and gather information on how they have benefited from the implementation of the previous workshop, if there is a need to update our curriculum or to find out, if there is a need to provide more information, the collection of data is still in the process.

School Clubs

Adolescence is a time of many new things including puberty changes and the onset of menstruation for girls, which are all important subjects pupils and teachers/parents need to have a clear understanding of. Puberty comes with many changes especially to girls which if there is no adequate and right information in regards to the subject; leads to challenges such as early pregnancy and an increase of school dropouts. The School club session has become an open session for young women and boys to express their thoughts and have an opportunity to open up to some of the questions or conversations they might have been struggling to have with their peers or at home with caregivers. 

Talking about menstruation and SRHR helps to empower knowledge, gives guidelines and alleviates the anxiety for most young women and their caregivers/guardians. Femme International believes that every young woman should not feel ashamed to talk about their periods openly and have the right to have the knowledge and choice on what type of quality and sustainable products they should use whether i.e washable pads or menstrual cups. Managing menstruation in a hygienic manner is also an important point to emphasize. Through this program 615 (228M 387F)  beneficiaries (boys and girls) were reached in 8 schools (5primary 3secondary) in Kilimanjaro region. Again, thank you for your continued support helps us to grow during this difficult time of the pandemic, as we inspire to even reach a wide audience. 

 

Highlights of the project 

  • Attending digital safety training for women influencers and advocates helps us to think and come up with ideas on how we can influence the audience or become advocates of menstruation and sexual reproductive health through      digital devices without becoming victims of cyberbullying
  • Hoping to reach a wide audience both locally and internationally, we have started doing  short videos on menstruations that will be posted on our social media every month talking about different topics on menstruation and sexual reproductive health.
  • We have continued facilitating our workshops in schools, women community groups in both Tanzania and Kenya, with a hope of slowly extending the MHM conversation to  men audience and young boys to know the importance of menstrual health management and why period matters.
  • Hosting a workshop on MHM in collaboration with Songambele initiative has clearly made us realize as part of the Tanzania MHM Coalition women and girls with disabilities are often left behind on receiving such knowledge in regards to menstruation and sexual reproductive health.
  • All persons with disabilities have the right to be treated equally and to be included in the conversations. Women and girls with disabilities are currently under-represented in MHM programming and the interventions; therefore they have to be they have to be included in every stage of the intervention 
  • Keeping in collaboration with other stakeholders in advocacy and awareness on period poverty and false traditions/beliefs that surrounds menstruation.
Beneficiary received washable pads
Beneficiary received washable pads
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School Club in Session
School Club in Session

Menstrual Health Management education continues to be our priority here in East Africa. The pandemic largely affected, and continues to affect tourism, the source of livelihood for many communities in Kilimanjaro and Arusha, where our headquarters are based! This has consequently impaired other mutually beneficial sectors like agriculture, transport, and many have lost their purchasing power. In Kenya, our Mathare Slum home base also suffers pandemic losses. Women living there survived mainly through various house/home management jobs which are now restricted due to Covid-19 regulations and fears. Many are left home earning little to no income. Overall, the pandemic continues to exacerbate the economic circumstance of many parents, guardians or financial providers who must not only cater to their children's basic needs, pads included!

Our work has been even more trying in the pandemic times; we had to learn to pivot (Did you know we now have a social enterprise - Twende is currently being Piloted in Tanzania), and mainly just try to sustain our mental health (S.O.S!) in this past years’ global shift. However, Periods don’t stop for pandemics, and neither will we!. Our teams across Kenya and Tanzania continue working tirelessly to provide even more access for better menstrual health education and distributing high-quality menstrual products to our beneficiaries. This quarter, we worked with students in secondary and primary schools, out-of-school girls, young and teen mothers, women, and even more men!

Your support motivates and continues to help us grow and reach even more beneficiaries, thank you! Here is what we have been up to!

TWAWEZA MENSTRUAL HEALTH WORKSHOPS 

This past quarter we reached 240 girls from 2 regions in Tanzania and 350 women and girls in Kenya. This makes a total of 590 women and girls who benefitted from access to menstrual health information and reusable menstrual products. In addition, we were able to train 36 teachers from two schools in the Kilimanjaro region who will continue supporting students in their schools with adequate information, increasing our overall impact. 

Femme International collects baseline data on key indicators before project implementation. The baseline exercise was conducted with240 students in the Kilimanjaro region from two secondary schools with 210 students and one primary school in Arusha with 30 pupils. In Kenya, we conducted 9 need assessments with a total of 100 girls aged between 11-17 and 50 women aged between 26-45

Our Data showed that Out of all 210 girls and women  in Tanzania 66% have little knowledge of menstrual health, while 44% have not enough information about menstrual management; 25% thought it was an injury, 19% thought it was a curse

  • Out of 350 girls and women in Kenya, 76.9% stated that they have clean washroom facilities at schools to change their products but the facilities have no bins to dispose of menstrual products; and the facilities have limited privacy.
  • Access to medical facilities was a challenge because of the reduced movement during lockdown and fear especially for something not considered a life-threat or illness; PERIOD PAIN. 

The baseline has been used as a road map in workshops training the students, as the facilitator will know where to put emphasis when teaching, the students/pupils and have a preliminary understanding also which product suits them better. 

 

School clubs

Sexual health, reproductive rights, and menstruation is the most important subject that students/pupils need to have a clear understanding of before and during puberty period. Recently and especially at the time of Covid 19 lockdown, teenage pregnancy has increased in most of the regions in Tanzania and Kenya with Nairobi, Kilifi, and Kakamega topping up in the list, teenage pregnant girls aged 15-19years https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/february-2021/breaking-silence-led-surge-teenage-pregnancies.Among the reasons that lead to an increase of the problem is the lack of access to education and knowledge on SRHE from the guardians or parents, as most of them do not spend time talking about the subject openly and most girls and boys shy away from talking about the issue. Femme International has started the school club program where the students have free space to ask questions about sexual reproductive health and menstruation in general. Through this program, 350 beneficiaries from two schools were reached, 200 girls and women  (89M, 121F) and 150 pupils (71M, 79F).  

From the school clubs program, the facilitators gathered information based on question and answer, one on one sessions that included the students using family planning methods without enough information, and in Kenya, the most used method was emergency pill (P2). Most of them only fear getting pregnant and not sexually transmitted diseases as they have very little knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases. 

 

Highlights of the project 

  • We have continued facilitating our workshops in schools and women community groups in both Kenya and Tanzania, in Kenya, we concentrate on guardians, parents, and out-of-school girls.
  • Working with Disability group known as Wote kwa Wote in Dandora slum of  Nairobi that we look forward to expanding in other slums and counties in Kenya, we have a discussion of starting a sustainable menstrual products campaign for women and girls with disabilities in Nairobi
  • Collaborating with other organizations in education and awareness on Menstrual Health Management 
  • Parents, teachers, and community leaders are keen to know how they can benefit from Menstrual Health Management education directly. During the community reach out there been questions asked like how would 


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March 8, International Women's Day -  Zoom Webinar
March 8, International Women's Day - Zoom Webinar

Hi friends!

We are settling in well to the new year, but just like everyone else, in recovery mode from, 2020 and the eruption of COVID-19! which affected our activities at Femme International. We mainly work with communities, schools, and due to lockdown it was not easy to implement activities as the schools were closed, people were scared, and finally, the financial issue!. Our programming and operations are still highly reliant on your donations, and with the challenges the globe was facing during the pandemic, it was not our best donation year, (don't worry, we totally understand!).

To learn more about how we’ve been keeping this March 8th, International women’s day, Join us on a live webinar featuring our Managing Director, Florence Akara; Rachael Ouko, and Sia Towo, our Country Managers, Kenya, and Tanzania, respectively.

Periods, however, don't stop for pandemics, and we won't either! We have continued our work, facilitating workshops using our Technical Brief for post-pandemic workshops which we developed in May, last year, as well as strictly complying with directives from the Ministry of Health about social distancing, wearing masks, and washing/sanitizing hands. Programming in Tanzania was not much affected by lock-down or government regulations; a catch 22 for our team in Tanzania, because it allowed our programming to proceed with little/slight interruption. We assure you that our team is keeping safe, at all times! Check out our stylish branded masks! Psssttt... You can also buy one, to support us! Message us on info@femmeinternational.org, if you are interested.

In Kenya, however, since COVID-19! started, and lock-down was enforced, the challenges of managing menstruation, and accessing menstrual products, have been even more evident. We were able to reach participants in workshops implemented through our technical brief, and provide them with access to menstrual and sexual reproductive health education, as well as distributed our handy Femme Kits which contain a sustainable menstrual product option that would reduce the need for the repeated month by month costs, and movement, that menstruators normally have to endure. In addition to learning from our participants about how they manage their periods during the pandemic, we also learned the following:

  1. Single-use disposable menstrual products, particularly during the pandemic are not easily accessible, and more specifically that they are unaffordable options in this time where priorities for everyone shifted drastically. The food vs menstruation dilemma menstruators in East Africa continues being severely affected during this time.
  2. Access to medical facilities was a challenge because of the reduced movement during the lockdown, especially for something not considered a life-threat or illness; PERIOD PAIN!.
  3. Perhaps the toughest challenge for most menstruators was the inaccessibility of water, and soap, especially for those living in the slums; which usually only have a few water points that are privately owned, and require a facility fee (daily or monthly cost). In addition, most of the wash facilities lack containers to dispose of disposable menstrual products and are connected to nearby rivers for easy drainage causing even more pollution. The facilities also limit the menstruator’s privacy.

Twaweza Menstrual Health Workshops

This past quarter, we reached 200 girls in Kenya, and 405 girls in Tanzania, direct programme beneficiaries who received full education and menstrual kits. We also reached a total of 265 indirect beneficiaries in both countries (not including print, radio, and social media audiences). If you do not yet follow us on social media, now is the chance to do it! Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin.

We managed to reach 3 regions in Tanzania and 5 in Kenya. Communities, local leaders, and students of Kariobangi, Majengo, Korogocho, and Mathare slums in Kenya, were visited by our team and received MH education. In Tanzania, we taught in seven primary schools in the Kilimanjaro, Arusha, and Dare-salaam region; including, Mshikamano, Mzimuni, Marurani, Maweni, Majimoto, Agape, and Tuangoma that were partially funded by third party sponsors, and partners.

These menstrual health workshops consisted of participants of diverse religious backgrounds, allowing us to explore very many local cultures and ideas from different perspectives regarding the usage of menstrual cups, and maintaining the cleanliness of the external parts of the female reproductive system.

Topics covered include the reproductive system, and its function, this is hosted in interactive sessions led by our facilitators, The participants learn about menstruation, and its related PMS and its management. In addition, we also demonstrate how to wear, and manage a sustainable menstrual cup, and pads, which is engaging for all participants.

We also talk about menstrual stigma, debunk myths and taboos by offering factual and practical information. We challenge the participants to be open and unafraid to explore innovative products that could possibly ease their burden of menstruation.The lack of understanding of what virginity is, is the biggest barrier, a complex issue that is covered in our comprehensive MH curriculum.

Here is what our beneficiaries say/think:

We conducted a follow-up session to see how the girls were managing their periods after the workshop if they had any challenges and what had improved and we found out that:

  • 35.1% of the girls think it is important to teach boys about menstruation while 64.9% think it is NOT important to teach boys about it.
  • 72.5% think it is important to teach girls and boys about sex education, while 27.6% think it is NOT important to teach.
  • 84.2% feel comfortable using Afripads, while 15.8% do NOT feel comfortable.
  • 73.8% use Afripads regularly
  • 13.1% do NOT use Afripads while 13.1% use Afripads sometimes.

Training of Trainers (T.o.T)

As part of amplifying our impact, and agenda to increase even more awareness, and reach new communities with our Twaweza programming, we hosted T.o.T workshops for 10 teachers in Arusha, Tanzania. This was the first official cohort of our T.o.T services and was funded by our friends from Made with Hope. The trainees are now certified to host Twaweza style workshops, with little need for dependence on our team facilitators.

Project Highlights

  1. Many girls got the confidence to try and demonstrate the instruction of how to wear a menstrual cup and the washable pads. Participants wanted to share their personal stories, one participant said: ” I used to have a friend who used to make her own menstrual product using pieces of clothes because she couldn’t afford to buy disposable pads”.
  2. Best of all, the participants demonstrated that they felt free in the safe spaces we created, openly shared, and were very curious about menstruation. They displayed newfound confidence and eagerly asked questions, such as;
  • What can one do when they can not access a toilet when their pad is already full?
  • Is tissue good to use when menstruating? How long should menstruation last?
  • What is the white fluid that comes out of the vagina?
  • Can the washable pad move while wearing it?
  • Are you supposed to throw the pad after using it?
  • When removing the menstrual cup, is there blood around the cup?

Test Your Knowledge: How good is your menstrual health and product knowledge, can you answer these questions?

That's it friends! Till next time, from all of us at Femme, stay safe!

Twaweza Participants -  Post workshop fun
Twaweza Participants - Post workshop fun
Twaweza participants - During the workshop
Twaweza participants - During the workshop
Twaweza participants - During the workshop
Twaweza participants - During the workshop
Femme Branded Mask Photo
Femme Branded Mask Photo
Femme Branded Mask Photo
Femme Branded Mask Photo
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Gift presentation to Buigiri School
Gift presentation to Buigiri School

As part of our engagement in the Tanzania MHM Coalition, we participated in a menstrual health awareness check-in with the Buigiri School in Dodoma, Tanzania. The students at Buigiri school have visual impairment disabilities, including blindness. 

Our team, lead by Elia, our team's first-ever-male menstrual health facilitator of our comprehensive menstrual health programme, Twaweza (We can - Swahili). Elia and three Femme volunteers were accompanied by the larger menstrual stakeholder community in Tanzania, comprising of educators, researchers, manufacturers,  and health sector players, both private and government with the overall investment in the greater impact of ensuring better policies and reform for menstrual health management in Tanzania. Reported highlights from the visit debrief minutes included:

An evaluation of the impact of the Hedhi Salama (Safe Periods) training by the TZ MHM Coalition group:

  1. 4 teachers acknowledged receiving of Hedhi Salama Training last year on 28TH May 2019.
  2. They acknowledged setting 1 out of 6 of the available toilets as a changing room and equipping the room with disposable pads, soap, dustbin, water and khanga(fabric/cloth) as the result of the training.
  3. Also, they have set aside a special area where they use for burning used menstrual pads; students also are aware on the importance of using dustbins to dispose of their used pads; before the training, the management of menstrual waste was a bit challenging and contributed a lot to the blocked sewage systems; but for now, they have managed to at least cease the impact of menstrual wastes to that school
  4. The school established a special fund for buying 36 disposable pads every month to cater for 15 menstruating girls age 14-16.

On challenges arising and way forward, they reported that:

  1. Visual disabilities made the management of washable pads very tricky, students didn’t know whether the pads were thoroughly cleaned, and if the environment they hanged them was sanitary.  Consequently, teachers decided to re-call the washable pads and burned them; however, the number of how many washable was burned was not available.
  2. Students complained a lot about menstrual cups; some students reported that the cups were painful; some students reported that they can’t sit when they use cups. Teachers decided to re-call all the cups from 3 students and burned them.
  3. The school did not establish WASH clubs in schools as they promised last year, and this has contributed to the continued silence among students, as well as teachers not to maximum utilize the knowledge they received during the Hedhi Salama training to bring a sustainable impact at Buigiri.

Menstruation is not a one-size-fits-all solution:

In the end, even when solutions are available, as we often note, through field lessons/experiences such as these, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to menstruation. 

Call to Action: Do you or someone in your network have ideas on a suitable product for menstruators with visual impairment?

What is the best product for those with visual impairment? Is there a way we can ensure that products include braille instructions to enable thorough cleaning? email us at info@femmeinternational.org

The session concluded with donations from the TZ MHM Coalition in donations made by individual organizations. We did not distribute menstrual products at this particular workshop under the circumstances. The full minutes of the meeting are attached to learn more about the events of the visit. 


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Periods DON'T STOP for Pandemics!
Periods DON'T STOP for Pandemics!

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially tough on us because not only is the core of our programming education, but, in order to serve the lowest-income menstruators, we rely on community gatherings and field trips to schools. In addition, these communities are usually remote/difficult to reach, and now impossible without exposing our staff or beneficiaries to the risk of infection. 

In response to global efforts towards flattening the curve of the spread of the virus, the Femme team has been staying indoors brainstorming, and developing the Twaweza curriculum further for when schools re-open, as well as strategies for the way forward for our Twaweza and Twende programmes in case the lockdown lasts longer than the given estimated time-frame. 

So far, we have managed albeit having very limited resources; including frequent power failures, poor or no internet connectivity, and old computers with faulty batteries or “fridges” as we refer to them jokingly for their lack to stay on without AC power supply.  We, however, cannot ignore that the beneficiaries of the Twaweza programme most likely/do not have the option of connecting with us over various VoIP or other forms of internet/digital media. A pandemic like this doesn’t equalise; instead, it amplifies existing inequalities, and those struggling the most beforehand will be even harder-pressed as the situation continues. This applies to access to menstruation, particularly in rural East Africa where period poverty is prevalent!

For our beneficiaries, the situation is even more dire now. Manufacturers are making the decision to shut down, stocks quickly are depleting in shops, leaving many people jobless and increasingly desperate. For some people, every last penny becomes a decision on the magnitude which basic necessity can they do without. Menstruation is, however, not an option or choice, but a necessity and just like other necessary daily body/health care products and needs including water, food, and soap; access to products is vital for healthy and hygienic menstrual health management. 

What Now? … We hosted our first/trial Post Corona Twaweza Session!

We remain dedicated, in spite of circumstances, to our cause to eradicating period poverty, the myths and stigma relating to menstruation. Consequently, we have been exploring ideas on how we can continue serving whilst safely adhering to the social distancing government regulations. Our workshops look quite different. Groups are smaller to enable the 2-metre physical spacing, and outside when the rains aren’t too severe. Workshop budgets now include soap and water and/or hand wipes for frequent hand-washing, and as hard as it is, we strictly avoid all handshakes.

The Femme Kits we hand out have always had a bar of soap included, which during this pandemic has become more valuable than ever. Help us continue the fight against #periodpoverty and Donate a Femme Kit today. 

Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin and help spread the word #periodsdontstopforpandemics!

Check out our latest blog entries!

  1. Social Influence barries to facilitating menstrual health workshops (Field Stories - Nairobi) -  by Judith Atieno, Twaweza Programme Facilitator
  2. We, as societies, cannot succeed when half of us are being held back! - by Júlia & Antonio, Founders of Periodo Solidario (Femme Partner)
  3. The “othering” of homeless women and girls is usually naturalized thus further perpetuating their marginalisation - by Elizabeth Gimba, Founder Go with the Flow Period (Twaweza programme partner )

That’s all folks. With love from all of us at Femme international. #staysafe #alonetogether

View of Twaweza post COVID19
View of Twaweza post COVID19
Menstruation, a girls best friend ft period emoji
Menstruation, a girls best friend ft period emoji

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Organization Information

Femme International

Location: Oxford Mills, ON - Canada
Website:
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Twitter: @FemmeInt
Project Leader:
Sabrina Rubli
Oxford Mills, ON Canada
$20,835 raised of $25,000 goal
 
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