On Wednesday, the President of Kenya signed the Basic Education Amendment Act into law, which commits the government to providing “free, sufficient and quality” sanitary pads to girls in state schools.
Girls supported by Plan International have been at the forefront of the campaign to make sanitary pads free.
Joyce, 14, petitioned the government on the International Day of the Girl last year demanding action.
Today, she says: “I feel so happy that the government listened to girls and is taking the step towards making Kenya a better place for all girls.
“It means so much to many girls who have been using tissue paper or old clothes during their menstruation. Many girls in the marginalised areas used to miss class. Now girls will never miss school again because of their periods.”
Access to sanitary towels is a big challenge for girls who come from poor families in Kenya, with UNESCO estimating that around half of all school-age girls do not have access to sanitary pads.
This prevents girls from participating and attending school because they feel ashamed or “unclean”. There are many instances where girls drop out of school once they start their periods. Staying at home and being out of education leaves them even more vulnerable to violations of their rights such as child marriage.
Equal access to education
That’s why the amendment to the education act is so significant, says Lennart Reinius, Plan International’s Acting Country Director in Kenya.
”Menstruation is linked to girls’ dignity and has a tremendous impact on their access to education and performance in school as girls will often miss days when they are menstruating,” says Mr Reinius.
“This is a pioneering step which will ensure that more girls can secure their right to a quality education,” he says. ”It also shows that when girls speak up, they can become champions of change.”
Plan International is urging for robust implementation of the plan to ensure all girls, including those in marginalised and remote communities, can access free sanitary pads.
Mr Reinius says: “The success of this great initiative will depend on its reach and its adequate resourcing.
“This move demonstrates Kenya’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 4 which states that all boys and girls should be able to have a quality education. Hopefully, this will set the scene for other nations to follow suit.”