When Jackline Chepngeno, 14, from Bomet County committed suicide a few weeks ago after her teacher allegedly embarrassed and humiliated her before the entire class because of menstruation, many Kenyans raised concern about girls and menstruation.
Charles Koech, 37, from Sotik decided to start a social media campaign dubbed #Endperiodshame #EndwithJackline.
In a photo on his Facebook page, Koech holds a sanitary pad written in red ‘END PERIOD SHAME’.
The trending hashtag has several people holding pads with the same writings to create awareness against the stigmatisation.
“Girls and women should not be made prisoners of their own bodies. We should all say no to menstruation stigma,’’
Mr Koech is a first born son in a family of twelve and a father of two children, a boy and a girl.
“I wanted to pursue counselling which I later trained in be after getting employment. After I graduated in 2009, I worked as a tutor at Kericho Technical Institute's business department for six months before I joined Men for Equality of Men and Women (MEW),” he said.
CHAMPION FOR CHANGE
It is from MEW where he began what would turn out to be his passion in the gender field, working with men and boys as champions for the rights of girls and young women. This is by changing the attitudes and behaviour of men and boys in the socialisation process.
In 2014, he exited the organisation after the grant period by the donor ended.
Since by then he had graduated with a higher diploma in psychological counselling, he decided to register his own organisation called Integrity Counselling and Motivational Consultancy (ICMC).
“ICMC is a social enterprise geared towards addressing social, spiritual and psychological issues bedevilling mankind today. The idea was born out of my desire to impart and impact the lives of those around me,’’ says Koech.
Through ICMC, Koech works with learning institutions, churches and the community by offering counselling, mentorship and inspirational talks.
He also worked as a residential addiction counsellor and a project officer in Kilifi.
He offered counselling and psychosocial support to individuals and families who had problems with alcohol and drug addiction.
He then got an opportunity in Kilifi to pioneer a boys and men programme for a development organisation called Moving the Goal Post (MTG).
“My role was to design a programme of engaging boys and men by sensitising them in positive masculinity and responsible fatherhood.
Having worked with the organisation for two-and-half years, Koech left so as to be close to his family and to follow his passion of touching and transforming lives.
Koech says that most African communities and cultures are patriarchal in nature.
He says in these societies, stories about women and their experiences have been ignored, forgotten, misinterpreted and devalued, while stories about men and their experiences have been elevated, remembered, emphasised and overvalued.
“Menstruation, I always say in my advocacy work and trainings, is a natural biological process that no girl or woman should be stigmatised for. Communities and individuals should not be ashamed at all. They should talk about it freely,” he says.
“In response to the unfortunate incident of Jackline, I will be engaging the community with a view to ending period stigma by advocating for breaking the silence through online platforms and distributing pads,” he says.
He urges the government to ensure structures are put in place for seamless supply of sanitary pads as per the law.
But he insists that a lot of work should be done on the social-cultural sphere; dealing with myths, taboos and attitudes towards women and their issues.
"Since Jackeline’s ordeal, I have distributed sanitary towels to Kenyagoro Primary school in Konoin Sub-County in Bomet to 65 girls. I got help from my social media friends and I hope to help more schools especially in the rural areas," says Koech.
A packet of sanitary towel retails at Sh65.