The COVID-19 pandemic has made worse many of the social justice issues we do advocacy around. It has also unearthed many other issues that tend to be overlooked in our push for social justice. For example, following the outbreak, it became clear world over that the ‘work-from-home’ approach to the crisis was a luxury that many could not afford and that many families were sleeping hungry due to the pandemic. In response, as a social justice centre and in collaboration with our partners (both individuals, government, non-governmental organisations and the broader social justice movement), we received food donations that have helped feed many families most affected by the pandemic. While distributing food to the needy in our community, we noted that not only had the pandemic severely affected people’s livelihood, it had affected teenage girls and young women in unique ways that we had not dealt with before. Specifically, we noted that, often, most of those sent to collect food packages were young women and teenage girls no longer in school due to the pandemic. Often, the girls would collect the food packages and request for sanitary towels. After noting a pattern of teenage girls and young women needing help with menstrual products, we mobilised within and included sanitary towels in our packages. We also started talking to the girls to understand their experiences of the pandemic. It was from these initial talks with individual girls and young women that it became clear that young women and girls were a group uniquely affected by the pandemic and whose needs brought together many issues of social justice that we’ve long advocated for. Among the issues that became clear were that:
- There was limited awareness on menstrual health management (MHM). Many of those that provided food packages did not for instance include sanitary towels.
- Menstrual health was not a priority in many families. With many parents out of work, most families prioritise food and shelter over other expenses.
- COVID-19 has both exacerbated and highlighted the need for a menstrual health focus. Access to menstrual products has been deprioritised by the government and parents, while most young girls and women would have access to these while in school, many are now forced to stay home as their parents cannot afford sanitary towels.
I was in this regard that we started holding weekly meetings with girls on menstrual issues that has since expanded to include broader social justice issues.
Our target group is young girls and women aged 12 to 22 years, as most of them have an understanding of menstrual health matters and can speak for themselves about issues affecting them in their communities.
Linked to broader social justice issues
We saw menstrual health as linked to many social justice issues and campaigns we’ve started since establishing MSJC. For instance, among the issues flagged by participants was that it was difficult for them to have proper menstrual hygiene when their families have to buy water during this difficult period under the pandemic. Related, the participants noted that it was often embarrassing to dispose used sanitary towels in the community as the community lacks basic sanitation facilities. Further, the issue of menstrual health is about lack of political accountability in that despite the 2019 Menstrual Hygiene Management Bill, many women and girls still lack access to affordable menstrual products. Some of these issues were highlighted by participants in the following MSJC menstrual health campaign video.
The Objective of Dada Talks
- To create confidence among young women and girls (ages 12-22) for them to better express themselves when faced with challenges in the community.
- To understand and harness some of the young women and girl’s ideas in better managing menstrual health. E.g. some have great ideas on making reusable sanitary towels and other reusable menstrual products.
- To push government to change its approach to menstrual health by ensuring access of menstrual products, initially availed in schools, in communities during the pandemic and beyond.
- To create a safe space for young women and girls to express themselves.
- Hold weekly sessions with a group of 25 girls from Mathare on various topics that are affecting girls in communities.
- Those trained where possible to mentor others in their respective neighbourhood in the community as the centre is yet to develop a capacity to host more than 25 girls and young women.
- Air documentaries of women trailblazers to inspire the young women and girls
- Conduct community outreach where possible to reach the young women and girls unable to participate.
- Expose the girls to other people outside Mathare.
- To have cells in every ward in Mathare Constituency creating awareness on menstrual hygiene and providing a safe space for young women and girls to convene.
- To have better access to menstrual products provided by the government
- Confident girls and young women that know their rights
See pictures from some of our sessions below!