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How a Kenyan Catholic Priest is Fostering "menstrual hygiene" among Girls in Schools

Fr. Stephen Otieno Makagutu donating sanitary towels to girls at St. Dominic Kianja Primary School within the Archdiocese of Kisumu Credit: Fr Stephen Otieno Makagutu

A Kenyan Catholic Priest is promoting menstrual hygiene among primary school girls by providing them with sanitary towels.

Fr. Stephen Otieno Makagutu, a member of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM Capuchin) ministering in Kenya’s Kisumu Archdiocese, is reaching out to the girls through the WuodFlora Little Way, a project he founded to aid with the distribution of sanitary towels to school-going children in rural areas of the Kenyan Archdiocese.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Makagutu said he decided to start the project after three years of purchasing pads for different ladies on World Menstrual Hygiene Day, marked May 28.

“We have seen and read reports about the girl child missing school when they are on their periods because they do not have pads,” Fr. Makagutu said.

One million girls in the East African nation miss school every month as they cannot afford sanitary towels

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Against this background, the Kenyan Priest said that he decided to go beyond purchasing sanitary towels for a few ladies and instead donate to school-going girls.

“I approached a number of friends and asked them to send money to buy the pads. I managed to get Kshs.5,000 (US$50) and bought 6 cartons of pads each with 16 pads and gave them to 95 girls, in class 6 and 7, at St. Dominic Kianja Primary School,” said Fr. Makagutu.

He looks forward to continuing the donation of pads to “girls in rural primary schools in Kisumu,” he said, adding that he hopes to provide the girls with reusable pads or menstrual cups, which can be used for a longer period of time.

During the Wednesday, June 2 interview, the Priest ministering at St. Dominic Kianja Catholic Parish of Kisumu Archdiocese said that he will also be giving boxer shorts to boys during the monthly donations.  

“The girl child has been motivated a lot and the boy child is being left out. So, I decided that while I will be giving pads to the girls, I will get at least two boxers for the boys,” he said, adding, “It is important to do this for the boy child because if they feel left out, they may do some things in revenge, just because they feel the world does not take care of them.”

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Fr. Makagutu spots a gap in the initiatives undertaken by the Kenyan government.

He said, “What the government is giving us is how not to be pregnant by telling them how to use condoms without telling them how to abstain from sex. Parents are also giving their children contraceptives. There are other risks that come with sex including Sexually Transmitted Diseases and the children should know.”

Fr. Makagutu also said that it is important for men to be involved in matters of menstrual hygiene.

He explained, “We have a culture where men do not know about menstruation or what happens to women but this is a reality. Some ladies fail to go to work when they are on their periods because of issues such as cramps and the male bosses will be wondering why. We see the change of moods, but we men do not understand anything.”

He continued, “I have seen some of my female friends cry because of cramps. This is something I can only imagine. And yes, it will happen only for some few days but after some 28 days, the pain will be back. Men must understand all these factors.”

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The Priest added that primary school boys should also be told about menstrual hygiene because some of them laugh at their female counterparts when they soil their clothes because they do not understand what is happening to the girls.

“Boys should also be made to understand that it happens to their sisters, mothers, and other females,” he said and expressed his plans to give talks about hygiene and sex education to the primary school children when he reaches out to them with donations.

The Capuchin Friar added that pastoral agents should also speak more about menstrual hygiene, and the Catholic Church teaching about sexuality and contraceptives.

“There is still a lot that needs to be done by the Church. When we men, Priests, think that talking about menstrual hygiene is dirty, we will not help. It is the role of the Church to facilitate sex education; it is us to talk against contraceptives,” the Kenyan Catholic Priest told ACI Africa.