Milka Hadida Yuda comes from Tana River, Kenya. She is the only Kenyan recipient of the Florence Nightingale Medal, for her efforts to end menstrual shame. Through regular sanitary towel drives, Milka collects around 1000 towels a day and is able to reach around 500 to 1000 girls a month.
She does the collection alone and with her bicycle ensures the pads are distributed to Galole sub-county, Tana Delta sub-county, Garsen North ward, Garsen South ward, Tana North Boka and Chardende. Milka, a single mother with no formal employment doesn’t let situation affect her overall goal of ensuring that girls in her region have access to sanitary towels.
“It can be challenging because of the weather or inaccessibility to some of the areas in the county but I keep doing it because of the positive impact it has on the girls,” added Hadida.
Girls in Tana River county will miss about four to six days of school each month, or an average of 20 per cent of the school year, because they are on their period.
“Period shaming affects girls in this region leading to early marriage, pregnancy and poor performance in school,” she told Woman Kenya.
Meanwhile, she organizes school girl clubs, community dialogues and sensitization on period awareness. She also works with local government officials during barazas to pass the message across.
“The community has to be educated about the effects of period shaming and the importance of ensuring that girls in the community are empowered and are aware of how natural menstruation is,” she explained.
She argues that the government should do more to ensure that sanitary towels are easily accessible to girls in school.
“I envision a time when sanitary towels will not be taxed in the country and a society that sees how normal periods are,” she told Woman Kenya.
She advises that, “Regular people can get involved right away: donate in your area especially in schools make sure that young girls have access to menstrual hygiene products," she told Woman Kenya.
Impact of period shaming
Just like millions of girls and women around, Milka experienced period stigma. She was forced to use alternative ways to access sanitary towels.
The impact of period poverty cannot be underrated. It not only contributes to global and regional gender inequity, as women are forced to solicit help from men in order to satisfy a basic health need, period poverty and shame also interferes with women's education, employment and health.
Even though the period conversation is very personal, Milka believes that speaking openly about menstruating is necessary.
“The more we tell stories, the more people step up to act," said Milka, a volunteer with the Kenya Red Cross Society.
She started volunteering with Kenya Red Cross society in 2019, although she has always supported vulnerable women since 2016. In 2019, a 14-year-old schoolgirl committed suicide following an alleged incident of period-shaming. After this incident Milka was inspired to transform the lives of girls and young women from her region.
Sex for pads
According to a 2015 study by Foundation Strategy Group (FSG), 65 per cent of Kenyan women cannot afford sanitary products. And 10 per cent of all 15-year-old girls, according to a 2016 study, had engaged in sex in order to get money for sanitary pads.
In rural Kenya, 2 out of 3 pad users receive pads from sexual partners. The Covid 19 pandemic has aggravated the situation.
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