My shame of menstruation birthed hope for Marsabit girls
By Lilian Kaivilu
It was just another day in school for Anna Qabale Duba. She was in a mixed primary school and just like her peers, she looked forward to the break time after a long lesson. Besides, she had experienced some stomach pains throughout the lesson hence the haste to get out of class.
Immediately their teacher exited the classroom after the lesson, Qabale would leave class hurriedly to the toilets. But the worst had happened; she had soiled her dress. “After the lesson, I was the first to leave the class because I wanted to use the bathroom. I heard the boys laugh at me. I soiled myself unknowingly.”
Nothing had prepared Qabale for her first monthly period. And just like many other girls, menstruation was deemed taboo in her culture. “Nobody has ever talked to me about menstruation before, when to experience or what to expect when the day comes,” she remembers. Qabale is just a part of the 50 percent of Kenyan girls who, according to Menstrual Health in Kenya Country Landscape Analysis, do not have a chance to openly discuss menstruation matters in their homes.
The report by FSG reveals that only 32 percent of rural schools have a private place for girls to change their menstrual product and that only 12 percent of girls in Kenya would be comfortable receiving the information from their mother.
Born and raised in a patriarchal community, Qabale says demands were high for her, and other girls, to retain a low profile in both social life and academics. Performing well in school was frowned at. “I led in my class throughout primary school, something that made the boys uncomfortable.”
The last born in a family of nine is the only child in their family who went past primary education. She would later join Torbi primary school then Moi Girls high school-Marsabit for her secondary education.
Qabale’s experience when she had her first menstrual period pushed her to seek a solution for other girls who would find themselves in a similar situation. “Since I was a victim of the shameful experience with my periods, I developed a passion about menstrual health,’ says Qabale. As a young girl, her wish was to one day put smiles on the faces of pastoralists girls by providing them with sanitary pads so that they do not have to miss classes during menses.
In 2014, Qabale started Pads and Panties (PAPA) project, a project under Qabale Duba Foundation. With support from the county government of Marsabit she was able to purchase and donate sanitary pads and panties to girls in remote schools within the county. At the time, she had participated in a modeling competition and won Miss Tourism Marsabit County, Miss Tourism Kenya Peace and Miss Tourism Kenya Investment 2013/2014.
The nursing graduate from the Kenya Methodist University has so far helped over 2000 girls in Marsabit county stay in school by providing then with disposable sanitary wear. She is now providing women and girls with reusable pads
“I involved women because sometimes we would give the girls the sanitary pads only for them to take to their mothers hence the absenteeism continues,” says Qabale.
After venturing into this project for some years, she experienced huge expenses purchasing reusable pads that are made in Uganda. But with support from Akili Dada, Qabale was able to purchase two sewing machines and the materials for making the reusable pads. “Currently we are perfecting our samples of the PAPA products and ready to give it out to the girls for testing.”
During this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day, Qabale donated disposable sanitary pads to over 200 girls and also launched her period panties to be tested by a few girls within the county.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (YALI) fellow hopes to establish a company in Marsabit to make period panties targeting pastoralists girls and women. “I would like to break the silence on menstrual hygiene matters especially in the nomadic communities where menstruation is deemed taboo.”