How Boys in Kenya Are Normalizing Menstruation
Half of the world’s population has experienced or will experience a menstrual cycle. Still, period stigma persists. One way to end harmful perceptions about periods is by providing comprehensive menstrual health education — for girls and boys. Normalizing menstruation for all young people is the only way to end period stigma.
Wangechi, a Global G.L.O.W. mentor in Kenya, is engaging boys in conversations about menstruation in the classroom and community.
Read on to hear her story, in her own words.
Period Stigma Manifested
In Nanyuki, Laikipia County, Kenya, there is stigmatization of menstruation because for some women, when they’re on their period, they cannot go to church. When girls are on their period, their parents are not allowing them to play with boys. And there is also the notion that periods are dirty: That when you’re on your period, it is something dirty.
“When girls are on their period, their parents are not allowing them to play with boys. There is the notion that when you’re on your period, it is something dirty.”
Menstruation has not been accepted or talked about openly. It’s normally a challenge to just tell girls, “It’s okay to describe these things. You can ask whatever you want to know.”
In GLOW Club, the girls are able to ask questions like:
- What is a period?
- If I’m having my period, does it mean I’m dirty?
- My classmates have started but I haven’t. Is that normal
- Can I have sex during my period? And what are safe days?
These are things they are not used to talking about openly, even with their relatives, their families, their parents, or their teachers.
But in GLOW Club, we often run out of time because of all the questions we have. The girls feel like if they can’t ask here, they are not comfortable enough to ask at home. The program has been really impactful because it makes the girls knowledgeable.
Girls and Boys End the Cycle of Stigma
We realized that we’re empowering girls here, but it isn’t as impactful because the boys are not aware of what is happening to the girls, or why it’s happening to them. We would find incidents of girls staining their dresses in class, and boys would point at them and laugh.
Lack of information is really something that was hindering the efforts we were making. They were weighed down by the boys’ lack of knowledge.
“We would find incidents of girls staining their dresses in class, and boys would point at them and laugh.”
Given this challenge, we came up with a proposal to also teach boys in our community about menstruation. As we were starting the program, we didn’t judge them and tell them, “You’ve been doing the wrong thing.”
Instead, we just explained and taught them.
The boys have had a change in perception, and also have more respect for the girls. They’ve begun normalizing menstruation, which I think is a really good thing.
Last week, one boy gave a girl a sweater to wrap around her dress when she was bleeding. The boys are even demonstrating how to wear a pad and explaining how often to change it for their younger sisters. Seeing the boys teaching the girls is such satisfaction for us.
“The boys have had a change in perception … They’ve begun normalizing menstruation, which I think is a really good thing.”
We’ve also received feedback from the parents on how they perceive their boys interacting with their sisters at home or with other girls at schools. We believe that the girls have grown more confident in class and in the community because of the program.
I’d like to tell boys that menstruation is normal. It happens, and they should try to learn more about it. Converse with a girl friend that they are open to talking to. Ask questions, chat, and talk more about it.
Special thanks to The Leo Project, who operate Global G.L.O.W. programming in Kenya in safe, small-group after-school sessions for youth participants with trusted local mentors. Additional thanks to Pathways Policy Institute for their collaboration with The Leo Project on the Better Boys Program.
Global G.L.O.W. partners with community-based organizations in 30 countries to operate mentorship-driven programs for girls ages 10-18. Our SEL-based curriculum gives girls the tools to express themselves, advocate for their rights, and challenge the most critical barriers to achieving gender equality.