All Africa Kenya

Kenya: Empowering Kenyan Women and Girls With Disabilities in Managing Menstrual Health

Anne Wanjiru found out she had gotten her first period when a boarding school classmate told her she had stained her dress. No one had ever explained menstruation to her, so the then-14-year-old, who had a congenital mobility disability and hearing impairment, did not understand why she felt discomfort and pain or why she was bleeding. “I didn’t even know how to wear a sanitary pad,” she said.” A teacher explained periods were normal, gave her underwear and pads, showed her to use them and checked on her every day.

Now 29, the Mombasa-based Ms. Wanjiru runs a group for persons with disabilities that includes a programme on sexuality for young women, whose families and caregivers are often uncomfortable discussing menstrual hygiene. “Because of a lack of sexuality education, many girls with disabilities turn to their friends for information, which can sometimes be misleading and dangerous,” she said. “Some have been told that to manage their periods, they needed to have sex, and they end up with early and unwanted pregnancies.”

Changing the narrative

UNFPA partnered with This-Ability Trust, an organization that advances disability rights and inclusion by working with groups like Ms. Wanjiru’s, to improve access to sexual and reproductive health information and services for women and girls with disabilities across the country. The partnership, which has reached 12,000 people in eight counties, also educates both recipients and caregivers on menstrual health management when distributing dignity kits with washable sanitary pads.

“There is a misguided narrative that portrays women and girls with disabilities as asexual,” said Maria Rosa Cevallos, a project manager with This-Ability Trust. “The consequence of this is that they are not provided with adequate information about their reproductive health, including menstruation.”

According to the 2019 census, more women (2.5 per cent) than men (1.9 percent) live with a disability. Girls and young women with disabilities – the most prevalent are mobility, visual impairment and cognitive disabilities – are often denied the right to make decisions for themselves about their reproductive and sexual health, increasing their risk of sexual violence, unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.

A need to close gaps

A recent needs-analysis conducted by This-Ability Trust among health-care workers in Kenya showed gaps in the provision of reproductive health-care services for women and girls with disabilities.