A 14-year-old schoolgirl in Kenya took her own life after allegedly being shamed in class by a teacher for having her period and staining her uniform.
According to media reports, the girl’s mother said a teacher had called her “dirty” for soiling her uniform and ordered her to leave the class. In Kenya, Llike many African countries, many girls cannot afford sanitary products such as pads and tampons and – despite the passage of a law in 2017 to provide free sanitary towels for schoolgirls – the girl had nothing to protect her clothes. She came home and told her mother about the incident but when the mother went to fetch water, she took her own life.
AHO is devastated to learn of the tragic and completely avoidable suicide of this young girl who was allegedly bullied and shamed by a teacher who should have supported her in her moment of need.
The incident clearly highlights how poverty should never be a barrier to menstrual heath and dignity – which is critical to ensuring that all girls are able to live their lives and attend school without shame or insult. It also emphasises the importance of awareness-raising in schools to tackle the harmful stigma of menstruation – and the importance of training for teachers to ensure that they themselves understand menstruation and can promote positive conversations and behaviours about it.
African girls should receive free sanitary pads
Access to sanitary towels is a big challenge for girls in Africa, with AHO estimating that around half of all school-age girls do not have access to sanitary pads.
There are many instances where girls drop out of school once they start their periods because they feel ashamed. Staying at home and being out of education leaves them even more vulnerable to violations of their rights such as child marriage.
AHO understands that a parliamentary committee in Kenya is currently investigating why the government’s pledge in 2017 to provide free sanitary towels for school girls is yet to be rolled out across all schools. We call on all the governments in Africa to ensure robust and immediate implementation of the pledge to ensure all girls, including those in marginalised and remote communities, can access free sanitary pads.
We also urge all the governments to ensure that comprehensive sexuality education – including in-depth teaching designed to tackle period shame – is delivered in specially-created safe spaces in all schools nationally to improve girls’ attendance and performance at school, break down taboos and misconceptions around menstruation and raise girls’ self-esteem.
Tragically, we can never turn the clock back on what has happened to this young girl. But we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure it never happens again.