When Joyce, 15, was given a platform to raise her voice about the challenges girls face in Kenya on International Day of the Girl, she took it as a chance to ask her local government to provide free sanitary pads for girls at state schools.
“I had a friend who has started her period but didn’t have the opportunity to get sanitary towels and so she could not attend school,” says Joyce. “I remembered her and I just said ‘no, this day I have the opportunity [to speak] so let me use it wisely.’”
According to UNESCO, access to sanitary pads is a major challenge for girls who come from poor families in Kenya, with nearly half of all school-age girls lacking access to menstrual health products.
Inspired by Joyce’s bold statement and remarkable courage, girls supported by Plan International have been at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to make sanitary pads free and ensure that more girls are able to attend school without the fear of being embarrassed or shamed for having their periods.
In June 2017, the girls secured a major victory when Kenya’s president signed the Basic Education Amendment Act into law, which guarantees that girls in state schools will receive “free, sufficient and quality” sanitary pads.
“I was very shocked and happy …I couldn’t believe someone so small like me in this community could contribute to the voices that make big people realize that girls are facing challenges,” says Joyce, with a smile.
“Girls will never have to miss school again because of their periods.”
SEE ALSO: 5 things that help keep girls in school
Increasing girls’ rights to education and dignity
Kenya’s new law is a momentous step for gender equality and will dramatically reduce the number of girls who are absent from school during their periods.
When girls don’t have access to menstrual health products, they are prevented from attending school because they feel ashamed or “unclean.” In fact, there are many instances where girls drop out of school once they start menstruating and this leaves them more vulnerable to human rights violations like child marriage.
“Menstruation is linked to girls’ dignity and has a tremendous impact on their access to education and performance in school,” says Lennart Reinius, Plan International Kenya’s Country Director. “It [the new law] shows that when girls speak up, they can become champions of change.”
And Joyce couldn’t agree more.
“With the passing of this law, girls will be able to learn comfortably. They will be happy knowing we’re safe and free, no more boys laughing at us,” she says. “We are going to learn and make a brighter future.”
making change possible
We are incredibly proud to have played a part in creating momentous change for girls in Kenya – but none of it would be possible without the support of our generous donors!
If you believe, like we do, that girls in developing countries should be able to exercise their rights to be educated, healthy and counted, then support the Because I am a Girl project and let’s create a brighter future for children, families and entire communities!