A recent incident in which a 14-year-old schoolgirl killed herself in circumstances suggesting that her class teacher taunted and even punished her on an issue as natural as a monthly period casts a dark shadow on Kenya’s free sanitary towels policy.
President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the Basic Education Amendment Act in June 2017 in response to serious concerns in especially primary schools, where pubescent girls were losing some six learning weeks yearly in circumstances related to menstrual health.
We have been told that investigations are ongoing to establish the exact cause of the teenager’s suicide. However, the suicide’s remotest link to menstruation is not only an indictment on the female teacher’s handling of the matter; it also raises critical questions on the sanitary towels policy’s funding and execution.
The first question that comes to mind is whether Kabiangek Primary School, where the tragic incident happened, gets free sanitary towels. If so, are the pupils aware? And if they are, what are the mechanisms for ensuring each schoolgirl has an adequate supply?
We raise these questions because if, indeed, the school is receiving free sanitary towels, the most logical thing would be to provide each pupil with her supply in a timely manner before the situation that caused the tragedy unfolds.
There are hints that that was the girl’s menarche – the first occurrence of menstrual flow. That means she had no prior experience of what a monthly period feels like. This raises the critical question of girls’ awareness of their bodily changes and their teachers’ preparedness to handle the inevitable discreetly.
However, mothers cannot be absolved since they have a role as their daughters’ first teachers in such a critical milestone in a girl’s life. Do they tell their young girls about the inevitability of monthly periods and prepare them to cope with it?
Obviously, the class teacher’s handling of the incident fell woefully below expectation. It raises another question: Are teachers prepared to help pubescent girls to navigate the uncharted waters of menarche on school premises? There is every indication that Kabiangek is not receiving sanitary towels. Execution of the sanitary towels policy costs the taxpayer close to Sh500 million yearly, hence citizens’ right to know if the money actually serves the purpose.
At a time when looting of public funds is the order of the day, Kenyans need assurance that the free sanitary towels policy is not just on paper, and that the pads are reaching every schoolgirl. Can the Education ministry publish spending on free sanitary towels to clear itself of the Kabiangek Primary School tragedy and assure the public that the money is reaching girls?