Having your period isn’t always straightforward. It can be annoying, even debilitatingly painful. But for some of the poorest women in the world, a period could put your future at risk.
Growing up, Faith would not go out for three or four days a month if she had her period. Faith’s mother, who has a kiosk selling vegetables and raised Faith and her four siblings on her own, could not afford to buy her daughter menstrual products. Sometimes, a woman who lived nearby would help Faith, but when she left the area, Faith had nowhere to turn.
When Faith started her period at 14, a young man in her neighborhood began offering her money for menstrual products in exchange for sex. At first, she refused. Faith would use a cut cloth to contain her menstrual blood, but she would miss school. “…I felt very uncomfortable,” she says.
Eventually, she agreed to the man’s proposition. Faith was fifteen. He was twenty.
Period poverty is an enduring problem around the globe.
When it comes to menstrual products:
- In the U.S., where 25 million women live below the poverty line, food stamps cannot be used to purchase them.
- A 2017 report by Plan International revealed that 1 in 10 girls in the UK can’t afford products.
- Across Africa, 1 in 10 girls will miss school because she cannot afford menstrual products, or because she does not have access to safe toilets.
- In Kenya alone, 50% percent of girls do not have access to products, and girls across the country girls are being sexually exploited in exchange for these basics.
In Kenya, as in much of the world, menstruation is still widely considered taboo and there is a lack of readily available information about periods that girls can access. Girls often stay home rather than risk leaks and other problems caused by using uncomfortable, ineffective, and unhygienic rags. Accessing adequate toilet facilities is also a challenge. These girls also face the risk of being sexually exploited because of the limitations period poverty impose.
Today, Faith wants the government to provide girls with menstrual pads as well as help to pay their school fees.
“I hated the man who did this to me”
The man raped Faith six times. He would give her 200 shillings (just short of 2 USD), which Faith would then use to purchase clothes and other necessary items. “I did not like him as he was not nice to me…I was not happy about it, I was always asking myself so many questions,” she says.
Faith didn’t know how women became pregnant. Still, when she began missing her period, she soon realized what was happening. “When I found out I was so disappointed, I had not finished my education, I wanted to fulfill my career ambitions,” Faith says of her situation then.
During her pregnancy, there were times Faith thought of killing herself. Faith’s friends had been exploited in a similar way yet but shunned her when they found out she was pregnant. Her baby’s father denied he was responsible for her pregnancy and eventually moved away.
“I don’t know if I would be alive right now…”
Some days, Faith can only feed her son, Ryan, once a day. Twice a month they go to Life Bloom, a Kenyan nonprofit organization that supports women and girls. Learning about women’s rights has opened up new doors for Faith, who has found a community of other young women who can share and relate to each other’s struggles. “If it wasn’t for Life Bloom, I don’t know if I would be alive right now,” Faith says. “ I was so sad, I used to cry and felt suicidal.”