Dandelion Kenya is an organization aimed at creating a sustainable, better, healthier and socially just society. Founded on feminist principles, Dandelion Kenya works and interventions on issues relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality among others. Christine Omao speaks to us on behalf of Dandelion Kenya on how the organisation fights for safe periods for Kenyan girls and women.
The Female Orator: Tell us about Dandelion Kenya and some of your achievements?
Dandelion Kenya’s mission is to empower adolescent girls and young women through education in their endeavours and aspiration for self-reliance. Dandelion Kenya is a founder and member of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights Alliance Kenya hence has engaged extensively with sexual and reproductive health and rights including abortion advocacy sub-regionally, nationally, regionally & globally.
This is through working in coalitions to build skills, knowledge and mobilising actions on policy and legal reforms, countering stigma on various sexual and reproductive health and rights topics including abortion through public awareness and campaigns. We led advocacy around the Helm’s amendment- writing a letter to President Obama Ahead of his visit to Kenya and use of social media to drive policy discussions on sexual and reproductive health and rights under the #SRHRDialogues hashtag. Dandelion Kenya was part of core team implementing the #FreedomForGirls project on Menstrual health hygiene that provided information and access to menstrual healthy hygiene products including pads, tampons and menstrual cups
The Female Orator: Working in the area of Menstrual Hygiene Management what are some of the taboos and social restrictions associated with menstruation in Kenya?
Taboos include the illusion that women are ‘dirty’ during their periods which has fostered practices such as digging holes for girls to manage the menstruation ( both because of lack of access and perceptions of girls as dirty during their periods. Information sharing that tends to focus more on reproduction rather than wellness and celebrating womanhood. Finally is the taboo that menstruation is an indication of adulthood hence the proliferation of child marriages.
The Female Orator: How do these taboos and social restrictions affect young girls in Kenya?
Affects self-esteem of girls, continues to doom girls to oppressive cultures and harmful practices such as child marriages and undermines the agency of girls. Girls are more than reproductive beings and it is important that information sharing and broader menstrual health hygiene project recognise and embody that.
The Female Orator: How can we change negative narratives about menstruation?
Through public education, awareness raising, campaigning and advocacy. Like any other issue embedded in norms, attitudes and culturally curated practices, we must employ long-term strategies that aim to enhance and increase knowledge on the issue, challenge misconceptions to change attitudes and revolutionise practices.
The Female Orator: Do you believe sanitary products should be free?
Yes, they should be free. This is an issue of equitable access to opportunities in our society, way beyond the products themselves to include education and subsequent equal chances to economic opportunities. A society that cares makes sure to #LeaveNoOneBehind
The Female Orator: Why do you think it is important to make clean and safe sanitary products accessible to girls everywhere?
Girls drop out of school due to lack of access to menstrual health hygiene products, this sets them off on the gender inequality trajectory. They miss school hence have unequal chances accessing education, they are most likely to be vulnerable economically where exploitative sex in exchange for the products predispose them to sexual violations, unwanted pregnancy and undermines their bodily autonomy and agency as people.
The Female Orator: What do you think stakeholders involved in menstrual health management can do to make this possible?
Policy actions are critical to addressing the issues above coupled with budget allocations to aid in implementation. Through schools, the government has been able to distribute sanitary products but these programs should be strengthened and supported to be more sustainable.
The Female Orator: What challenges do girls and women from low-income families girls in Kenya face accessing sanitary products? How do these girls and women handle menstruation without sanitary products?
Sanitary products as they exist may not be affordable despite subsidization. Hence, sanitary products are out of the reach for most girls from low-income families.
The Female Orator: How do Kenyan girls and women handle menstruation without sanitary products?
Most common practices that women and girls resort to include use of rags, torn clothes, missing school, barks of trees and even mud. What this means is that the component of hygiene is totally missing as the methods predispose girls to disease and infections that may have long-term effects on their reproductive health system. Exchanging sex for menstrual hygiene products perpetuates gender inequality and predisposes them to sexual violations, unwanted pregnancy and even unsafe abortions.
The Female Orator: How do you suggest we open the dialogue about menstrual health and hygiene?
Menstrual health and hygiene dialogue should be part of comprehensive sexuality education programs. Our I Choose, My Life curriculum for disseminating information on SRHR has a strong component on this. It should be part of women and girls wellness conversations and should be articulated in ways that take into account cultural contexts and women and girls personal and unique experiences.
The Female Orator: Tell us about your ongoing and upcoming projects.
We are currently working on the #Nax4Fp project with DSW Kenya- aimed at increasing young people’s access to contraception and intersection advocacy on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Consists of a trained cohort of young leaders with more than 30 members from across Nakuru County where we are based. The members are champions of family planning, sexual reproductive health and also involved in the budget-making processes in the county through public participation. We are working with a partner organisation( PIPE- Personal Initiative for Positive Empowerment) to engage service providers and policy makers in Nakuru County to ensure that family planning programs enable young women living with HIV access to contraception
We continue to work in various partnerships to enhance awareness on SDGs among young people and feed into national advocacy to that effect. Finally is continuing the use of social media as a platform and tool to increase awareness, knowledge and advocacy on SRHR under the #SRHRDialogues hashtag
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.