Guest Post by Danielle Keiser, WASH United
Today we sat down with the team at WASH United Africa in Nairobi, Kenya–Beverly Mademba, WASH in Schools Programs Manager, Alfred Muli, Program & Research Associate, and Winnie Nyabenge, Program Associate–who have been coordinating the national effort, to learn about how policy change in the menstrual hygiene management (MHM) sector can be achieved. Here’s what they told us.
It seems like menstruation is a really hot issue in Kenya right now. Why do you suppose the issue is now gaining more attention than ever before?
Yes, you’re right! Menstruation is actually red hot in Kenya for a number of reasons.
First, the interest and demand for the issue is enormous! With more and more data finally surfacing detailing the wide-ranging negative impacts of poor MHM, many people are responding with interventions and solutions in Kenya–and beyond. At the beginning, the majority of the NGOs working in MHM came from the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. Now, people and organizations interested in advancing education, health, human rights, child protection and other sectors are getting involved. Even private social businesses want to help tackle the issue by bringing innovative MHM products to the market! It’s actually quite noticeable just how much MHM has grown in the last years, both in terms of work and media attention on the issue. Instead of just WASH, MHM is now being tackled from many different perspectives by many different organisations.
Secondly, the increased campaigning and advocacy surrounding Menstrual Hygiene Day has really had a huge impact on drawing attention to the issue. Two contributing factors include the fact that we at WASH United are the initiators and drivers of Menstrual Hygiene Day and have our African office (and our great team!) in Kenya.
Lastly and most importantly, the Kenyan Ministry of Health has taken an impressive leadership role in driving the issue and has done an excellent job of coordinating stakeholders, particularly in the WASH sector.
What are the key priorities of the proposed MHM policy in Kenya (education, product access, environmental issues, health, etc.?) and how will the policy be implemented?
Seeing as how MHM is an issue that cuts across different sectors, it is absolutely vital that the concerns of all the key stakeholders are considered. This means not only ensuring adequate sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and the affordability and accessibility of menstrual materials, but also providing education, information and addressing cultural barriers to improving MHM, such as myths and taboos. It also means taking into account the importance of behavior change around hygiene and disposal. The obvious target for the MHM policy are schools, but we are also trying to push the policy agenda to institutions (i.e., prisons, hospitals, etc.) as well to help ensure that it benefits as many women and girls in Kenya as possible.
Therefore the key priorities of the MHM policy are as follows:
- Defining safety and quality standards for reusable products
- Provision for management of MHM waste
- Defining minimum standards for MHM programming (for both infrastructure and behavior change interventions)
- Ensuring relevant reproductive health education
- Mainstreaming MHM into monitoring and evaluation
- Engaging the corporate sector to address the safety of their menstrual hygiene products; encouraging them to market their products responsibly and with “period positivity”
After the policy is finalized on a national level, the critical part is the contextualizing and institutionalizing of the policy in the 47 counties within Kenya to ensure real impact on the ground. This means conducting in-depth situational analyses to truly understand the specific issues in each county, as well addressing the needs and capacity requirements of the local governments.
How have you built relationships with others to advance the initiative? Who have been the most valuable partners?
We’ve built relationships in two ways: 1.) Through national thematic technical working groups (TWGs), such as the hygiene promotion TWG, the school WASH TWG and the policy and research TWG just to name a few. 2). Menstrual Hygiene Day has allowed us to collaborate with new partners both inside and outside the WASH sector giving us the opportunity to form strong coalitions that continue to garner media attention and influence local and national governments.
Besides this, we’ve been in constant dialogue with interest groups including academia, manufacturers, corporate entities and relevant government agencies.
All partners are equally valuable, representing their different interests. Key players at least working on the policy have been WASH United, Kenya Water for Health Organization (KWAHO), WASH Alliance Kenya (WAK), PATH, UNICEF, Transformation Textiles, ZANA Africa, I-CARE, Saidia Dada and networks such as KEWASNET. However, we must really commend the Ministry of Health for the amazing work they have done in coordinating us all.
If menstrual education is a component, what are the barriers to establishing a nation-wide educational initiative of this sort? Have there been any particular surprises or unanticipated blocks?
Great question. Currently the curriculum teaches about anatomy and the biological processes that occur during puberty. It does not, however, dive into hygienic management of the period, sanitary disposal of used products, and the facts vs. myths that surround menstruation.