Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Menstruation, Sanitary Pads, Health and Economic Empowerment for Kenyan Women

Onyango Oloo Delves into the Political Economy of "That Time of the Month"

1.0. Therapy Is Available for the Gazillions of Male Menophobes Out There

About a year ago, I posted some links on menstruation and sanitary pads on two Kenyan forums and was immediately confronted with howls of horror, yelps of disgust and brayings of disapproval from men who, apparently had never come across a human being who menstruates.

Here are a couple of choice excerpts:

From one youth oriented site:

Mon Feb-23-04 02:14 AM

#38928, "Onyango?"

what business do you have digging up these womens things?

believe me they know how to take care of it without your embarassing interference.

To which I later responded thus:

Onyango Oloo

Mon Feb-23-04 08:25 PM


were you, like the founders of rome raised by wolves rather than living and breathing women?

one of the most stubborn survivals of patriarchy in african society is this insulting belief that women's private parts are unclean.

yet men go to war all the time, for the privilege of being admitted, even briefly into that exclusive palace.

stop being such a wussy.

menstruation is a natural function that you better get using to.

unless you spend your time 24/7 around men.

mtl -

On another, more raucous forum one person complained that I had made him vomit all of his food by talking about menstruation and sanitary pads.

That is why today, I am TAKING NO CHANCES. I want to reach out immediately to the men out there who fear women and their bodies, and especially women and their menstruation. I knew there was help for poor little puppies like you and I made sure that I made it available right at the top of this essay. Here is a promotional write up from a web site which has been set up to deal specifically with this condition:

What is Menstruation Phobia?

Defined as "a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of menstruation" , each year, this surprisingly common phobia causes countless people needless distress.

To add insult to an already distressing condition, most menstruation phobia therapies take months or years and sometimes even require the patient to be exposed repeatedly to their fear. We believe that not only is this totally unnecessary, it will often make the condition worse. And it is particularly cruel as menstruation phobia can be eliminated with the right methods and just 24 hours of commitment by the phobic individual.

Known by a number of names Menophobia and Fear of Menstruation being the most common, the problem often significantly impacts the quality of life. It can cause panic attacks and keep people apart from loved ones and business associates. Symptoms typically include shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea, and overall feelings of dread, although everyone experiences menstruation phobia in their own way and may have different symptoms. . No Way. No How."

Though a variety of potent drugs are often prescribed for menstruation phobia, side effects and/or withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Moreover, drugs do not "cure" menstruation phobia or any other phobia. At best they temporarily suppress the symptoms through chemical interaction.

The good news is that the modern, fast, drug-free processes of The CTRN Phobia Clinic will train your mind to feel completely different about menstruation, eliminating the fear so it never haunts you again.

If you are living with Menstruation Phobia,what is the real cost to your health, your career or school, and to your family life? Avoiding the issue indefinitely would mean resigning yourself to living in fear missing out on priceless life experiences big and small living a life that is just a shadow of what it will be when the problem is gone.

For anyone earning a living or at school, the financial toll of this phobia is incalculable. Living with fear means you can never concentrate fully and give your best. Lost opportunities. Poor performance or grades. Promotions that pass you by. Menstruation Phobia will likely cost you tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime let alone the cost to your health and quality of life. Now Menstruation Phobia can be gone for less than the price of a round-trip airline ticket, or a few weeks of drugs or conventional therapy.

Our board-certified team specializes in helping individuals overcome fears, phobias & anxiety of all kinds, and is particularly focused on problems such as menstruation phobia. With a success rate close to 100% we can offer to refund our fee to clients if they are not successful in overcoming the fear.

To learn more about our 24-hour menstruation phobia program, please call us at 1-800-828-7484 (+1-212-582-8880 from outside the USA) for a complimentary consultation to discuss the problem.

The Menstruation Phobia Clinic at The CTRN Phobia Clinic™ is entirely results-focused, so we charge you for the result you want: freedom from Menstruation Phobia-regardless of how long it takes.

The process usually requires no more than ten hours. In exceptional cases we can achieve a favorable result in two to three. But because we guarantee the outcome, we will work with you for as long as it takes-five minutes, five hours, five weeks. We work highly effectively by telephone. This allows our clients far more flexibility in scheduling appointments, and the results are every bit as good as meeting in person.

You'll need to play your part, of course. Usually as part of the work with us there will be some easy and enjoyable homework for you to do, and that will be a key part of your success.

By Telephone:
Toll Free: 1-800-828-7484
International: USA (+1) 212 582-8880

Direct Contacts:
Contact Your Practitioner or Coach (+1) 212 582-8880 ext.7400
Reschedule an Appointment (+1) 212 582-8880 ext.7250
Testimonial Hotline (+1) 212 582-8880 ext 2020
Accounts Department (+1) 212 582-8880 ext.1100
Product Returns & Replacements (+1) 212 582-8880 ext.7300 option 5
Order Placed but not yet Delivered (+1) 212 582-8880 ext.7300 option 4

By Email

Mailing Address/Administrative Office:
Change That's Right Now, Inc.
420 East Phillip Ave
Elmwood Park, NJ 07407

Head Office:
Change That's Right Now, Inc
260 West 54th Street Suite 3700H
New York, NY 10019

I hope all the victims of menstruation phobia take advantage of these useful professional resources.

Have no fear, for as John Kerry and John Edwards used to say in their ill-fated quixotic campaign:


2.0. Mesopotamia, Babylon, Ancient Egypt and Elsewhere: The Spiritual Force of Lunar Flow

Here is another extract to reflect on:

Some South American Indians, for instance, thought that all mankind was created out of "moon blood."

The Mesopotamian mother goddess Ninhursag was said to make men out of loam and her "blood of life." She taught women to make loam dolls for use in a conception spell by painting them with their menstrual blood.

In the Bible's "Genesis" the name Adam is derived from "adamah," which can be translated as "bloody loam."

Many associate the moon with menstruation. The Babylonians, Romans, Indians and Moslems based their calendar systems on the lunar year .

In many civilizations the moon god is female (Ishtar (Assyrian/Babylonian), Quilla (Inca), Dschan (Thailand), Selene (Greece), Luna (Roman Empire), and very often the moon goddess is as well the goddess of fertility and motherhood. Furthermore, the crescent moon was in many cases associated with a virgin goddess like the Greek Artemis or the equivalent Roman Diana and later with the Virgin Mary. The Roman goddess Juno was also associated with the new moon.

In ancient Egypt the moon was closely tied to the ibis-headed god Thot, who was also regarded as the inventor of writing . A pyramid inscription of 2300 B.C. makes the moon equal to Tefnut, the daughter of the creator god Atum. Then, during the Greek-Roman period (3rd cent.-4th cent. C.E.) the Egyptian Nechbet was associated with the Greek moon goddess Selene. In a small temple of Ramses II in Abydos archaeologists found for the first time a picture of a female moon godhead. As far as Egypt is concerned, we can at least speak of a gradual "feminizing" of the moon through the centuries...

3.0. Uganda, Kenya, Menstruation and Dropping Out of Secondary School

The third reading is hereby presented:

More than a half of the Ugandan school girls who drop out of school in upper primary classes do so because of lack of sanitary pads coupled with lack of separate toilet facilities and easy access to water sources within the schools, according to the Forum for Africa Women Educationalist, Uganda's coordinator, Ms Florence Kanyike. She argues that menstruation is the most contributing factor to school absenteeism and poor academic performance among schoolgirls. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of silence surrounding it,” observes Kanyike adding that many girls fear to ask their parents for sanitary pads. Besides, many parents are ignorant about their added value to the education of girls. On average, a girl will have 13 menstruation circles a year. This means that parents need UGS 26,000 (EUR 11), yearly to buy pads. For most parents this is too expensive, especially when one takes into account that the average Ugandan lives on less than UGS 1,000 (EUR 0.40) a day, according to the results of the Uganda National Household survey, for the years 2002/3.

Updated: Thursday 14 October 2004

URL for Story: http://www.irc.nl/page/9963

Results from school sanitation programmes in Kenya

Girls are staying on longer in school in Kisumu District in Western Kenya , after a sustained set of activities around hygiene and sanitation. The schools have become more 'girl-friendly'. Fewer girls drop out of education once they reach puberty and boys are more willing to help to keep the school toilets clean and do other jobs they would not do at home.

The schools - working with two NGOs - have created a culture in which boys in School Health Clubs share the duties of cleaning latrines, sweeping classrooms and compounds and providing water to the latrines. Although the boys still do not do undertake these tasks at home they now see them as part of their school duties.

This is the combined experience of two NGOs, Africa Now (AN) and Sustainable Aid in Africa International (SANA).

The Schools after the Interventions

The two NGOs watched what was happening in seven schools near Kisumu where SANA had been working, and talked to teachers and students. Girls said they were managing menstruation more easily and were more committed to remaining in school because new school latrines had been built. Teachers and pupils observed that water-related sickness had reduced significantly and this was born out by statistics at another seven school project, where water-borne illness dropped from an average of five to two per week. Girls were keener on school health clubs than boys, and more likely to take part in songs and skits promoting health messages. Girls were brought up to take more responsibility than boys for the well-being of their families, and they are more influential as agents of change in their homes. However, at school, boys in the health club wash latrines, clean the compound, fill leaky tins and relay health messages. For boys these actions seem to end once they leave the school. The boys said that their sisters and mothers would, for example, usually fetch water. The girls and women in the household were also responsible for cleaning latrines and boiling water. When asked why they would do these jobs at school but not at home, boys said that their mothers would not permit it. It was clear that the school environment was felt to be very different. At school they were socialised to perform similar activities to girls and felt a need to prove themselves equal to the task of being responsible. A few, however, reported a change of hygiene habits at home, such as boiling water, as a direct result of the training on school sanitation and hygiene education (SSHE). SANA obtained funding from the French Government to assist schools in two peri-urban areas close to Kisumu with SSHE. Wandiege Primary School was selected from one area and Nawa Primary School from the other. SANA, in planning SSHE, drew on their experiences of a seven school Water and Sanitation project, funded by the development foundation SIMAVI in a neighbouring area.

Key activities

The SANA project had four key activities:

1. improving the water supply by rehabilitating wells and boreholes, to benefit the whole village community, and building pit latrines (water is sold to other users to facilitate financial sustainability);

2. safe disposal of waste, promoting appropriate latrine technology in both schools and in the community;

3. community training and empowerment to ensure a sense of ownership and the ability to operate and maintain the facilities;

4. School Health Clubs in the Primary Schools with training focused on hygiene behaviour and awareness-raising on endemic diseases such as malaria, and HIV/AIDS.

Africa Now (AN), the only other NGO carrying out SSHE training in Kisumu, has been supporting 27 schools. SANA drew valuable lessons from AN's experiences and worked closely with them. AN's SSHE training ran from 2001 to 2002, with funding from the British Council and Water For People. This focused mainly on awareness raising about health and hygiene, as there were not sufficient funds to provide new water supplies. Later, ten schools applied to AN and World Vision, who constructed water tanks for rain harvesting.

SSHE Project Activities

SSHE project activities comprised:
training staff and teachers,
providing water, latrines and handwashing facilities,
training students through School Health Clubs and Child-to-Child story books,
involving girls and boys,
keeping the classrooms and school compound clean,
class 'doctors' to monitor health.

Source: Kenya: Women, Girls and Water: Gender sensitivity in SSHE projects, by Alfred Adongo and Rosemary Rop

From IRIN News

KENYA: Women praise Kibaki's directive to drop tax on sanitary towels

NAIROBI, 23 Feb 2004 (IRIN) - Women in Kenya have praised President Mwai Kibaki's promise to waive heavy taxes levied on women's sanitary towels as a move which will greatly enhance women's reproductive health and reduce the costly burden of hygiene on poor women.

"There is no need of tax at all," Beatrice Elachi, a project officer with the grass-roots body the National Council of Women of Kenya, told IRIN on Monday. "Why should the government tax women on sanitary towels, yet this is a natural issue and not out of choice?" she queried.

Women leaders led by Health Minister Charity Ngilu had on Friday called on Kibaki during the country's first National Women's Conference on HIV/AIDS held in the capital, Nairobi, to intervene and reduce the cost of sanitary towels for women, the majority of whom were resorting to unhygienic practices such as the use of old rags and toilet paper, thereby exposing themselves to infections.

"You shall not pay a cent more. I instruct that manufacturing companies, traders and all those concerned to immediately stop charging extra," Kibaki told more than 4,000 delegates at the conference.

Dorcas Amolo, the reproductive health programme manager at the women's umbrella body Maendeleo ya Wanawake [Kiswahili for women in development], said Kibaki's directive would go a long way towards keeping girls in school and preventing sexual exploitation of schoolgirls, as well as curbing high rates of dropout among girls.

"I am very excited, because many girls will no longer drop out of school because of embarrassment of poor hygiene. Many parents have not been able to afford to pay for sanitary towels," Amolo told IRIN. "If it is going to be cheaper and affordable, quite a number of girls will afford it," she added.

The unaffordable prices of sanitary towels in Kenya have largely been blamed on the 16 percent Value Added Tax and other related taxes . Thus a packet containing eight sanitary pads costs as much 100 shillings (about US $1.50), a price too high for majority of women in a country where about 54 percent of the people live on less than a dollar a day. In consequence, over 50 percent of Kenyan women, especially those in rural areas, were locked out of the use of these hygienic sanitary towels, Amolo said.

"This is good news for women who have been choosing between buying bread and sanitary towels. I know from my work in rural areas that the majority of women cannot afford to spend 100 shillings," she added.

The women, however, urged Kibaki's government to put in place a clear policy stating the zero taxation on sanitary products to protect women consumers from any future indirect taxation on the products.

"We know he [Kibaki] commented while knowing that this has been giving the government a lot of tax," Elachi said. "We need him to come up with a clearly gazetted Act stating that women's sanitary towels will be zero taxed and that the price will be reduced," she added.

From the (US) National Library of Medicine website:


Menstruation requirements as a barrier to contraceptive access in Kenya.

Stanback J, Nutley T, Gitonga J, Qureshi Z.

Family Health International, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.

BACKGROUND: In many countries, non-menstruating women are routinely denied contraceptive services even when pregnancy can easily be ruled out. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether menstruation requirements in Kenya constitute a barrier to access for potential family planning clients. DESIGN: Prospective and retrospective observational study. SETTING: Nine family planning clinics in western Kenya. SUBJECTS: Women presenting as new clients at Ministry of Health family planning clinics. INTERVENTIONS: Researchers used prospective tracking and retrospective record reviews to compare the menstrual status of women presenting for family planning services with that of women who received methods in family planning clinics. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Dichotomous outcomes (menstruating versus non-menstruating women). RESULTS: During the eight-week period that tally sheets were used in the one hospital and eight health centres, 45% of the 760 women presenting for services as new clients were not menstruating (clinic range = 19%-70%). In contrast, information from clinic registers and client records in the same nine clinics showed that the (weighted) proportion of registered new clients who were menstruating was 85% (n = 102). We estimated that 78% of non-menstruating women (35% of all potential new clients) were sent away without services. CONCLUSION: For most women turned away, it is likely that pregnancy could be ruled out easily with a history and an examination. Menstruation as a pre-condition for provision of contraception wastes valuable resources and denies women their right to contraception.

PMID: 10442109 (PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE)

4.0. Taking a Closer Look at Menstruation, Sanitary Pads, Women's Health and the Capitalist Economy

Did you know there was a MUSEUM devoted solely to menstruation?

Good for you if you did.

If you did not, then that is ONE MORE REASON why you should BOOKMARK the KDP blog- you never know what we will come up with week to week, do you now?

Anyways, here is the link Museum of Menstruation.

The Korean American stand up comic,feminist, film actor, television celebrity and commentator

Margaret Cho has made a name for herself because of her outspoken views on sexism, racism, lesbophobia, body image. I found her article on menstruation, posted at Farai Chideya's Pop and Politics portal very illuminating. Click here to read it for yourself.

If you are a woman who experiences heavy bleeding, you may wanna check out this site.

When I heard of President Kibaki's tax waiver, I had mixed reactions.

On the one hand, the Kenyan head of state had to be commended for recognizing the economic impact of a monthly consumer decision that affects a very big percentage of the country's population. Given the prevailing sexist and misogynist attitudes about women and their bodily functions, his fiscal gesture was like a whiff of fresh air in a stuffy room.

At the same, I thought of the continuing health hazard that sanitary pads and tampons mass produced by transnational corporations pose to women and their health.

Around 2001 I was introduced to the work of a Montreal based group called Blood Sisters who do a lot of educational, advocacy and activist work around menstrual health.

Blood Sisters have pointed the following in regards to sanitary pads of the conventional variety:

Health & Enviro & Social Impacts

What every menstruating woman needs to know

Red Alert! Red Alert! Red Alert!

Toxic chemicals are contained in disposable products which are bleached with chlorine compounds. There is accumulating evidence that industrial uses of chlorine, including pulp and paper bleaching, releases toxic dioxins which bioaccumulate in the environment causing serious harm to wildlife.

Tampons and pads are often overpackaged and cause enormous waste.The average woman will go through about 10,000 pads or tampons in her life not to mention the millions of unnecessary plastic tampon applicators which wash up on beaches around the world and fill up landfills.

In addition to this ecological damage, there are also personal dangers caused by sanitary product use. Dioxin, a by-product of the chlorine bleaching process, has a number of serious health impacts: the effects of shredding rayon fibers from tampons in women's vaginas, the probable link between dioxin and endometriosis, the possibility of cervical cancer being linked to prolonged tampon use over many years, toxic shock syndrome, headaches and so on.

The Problem With Chlorine

All the major brands (Tampax, Playtex, O.B.) use the chlorine bleaching process to whiten their products. Aside from leaving behind minute quantities of toxic dioxins in the product and releasing dioxins into our rivers and waterways, there is absolutely no logical reason for bleaching sanitary products whiter than white. Tampons are not sterile.

All the major brands contain rayon which is a pulp product which can only be made through a chlorine or chlorinated compound bleaching process. Fibre loss from rayon has been traced as the probable cause of Toxic Shock Syndrome and has been shown to damage a woman's vagina by causing ulceration and a peeling of the mucous membrane. If one must use tampons, alternative products are available which are made from100% cotton and if bleached at all, it is with hydrogen peroxide which guarantees the product to be dioxin-free.

Facts from: "Stop the Whitewash" Campaign: a project of The WEED Foundation


They suggest these alternatives. Blood Sisters also practice what they preach, complete with their own Urban Armor line of safer products for menstruating women.

The Keeper is well, a keeper.

The Red Spot will tell you more about periods.

Did you hear about the merger between Gillette and Proctor & Gamble a couple of days ago? Did you also hear about the 6,000 workers who are going to lose their jobs as a result of this merger?

What does this business news have to do with an essay on menstruation and sanitary pads?

Hold on to your skirts and shirts ladies and gentlemen.

Proctor&Gamble is the parent company for

Tampax ,

Always and many other household products like


Nice'n Easy,

Pantene Pro-V,



Head And Shoulders,


and dozens more.

Here is P&G's own PG history of Tampax. In case you did not notice, three men are credited with the launch of one of the most widely bought feminine products around the globe.

Since I am a nosy nerd, I went to their to find out how much money they made in the last couple of years by looking at their 2004 Annual Report and this Financial Summary although it is actually more revealing to see their Full Financials.

How many billions of dollars did the world's women contribute to Procter and Gamble's bottom line directly through their collective menstrual flows?

Here is what A G Lafley, President and CEO of P&G said in the 2000 annual report:

We look for acquisitions that will provide a good financial return for our shareholders, while considering key strategic issues. We want brands that can help expand our leadership in existing categories. Tampax, for example, strengthened our feminine care business by getting us into the tampon segment.

Monthly periods are very good for big business.

By the way, how many people remember this obscure news item from the East African:

KWS seeks millions from Procter & Gamble

The East African, 23 August 2004. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has launched an action that could put a halt to illegal extraction of Kenya's biological resources, particularly those with huge industrial potential. The KWS is seeking a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars generated from the sales of a popular detergent and a bleaching agent manufactured in the US whose active ingredients were acquired in Kenya illegally. KWS is claiming a share of the proceeds accruing to the US multinational giant Procter &Gamble and to Genencor International BV of the Netherlands. Genencor discovered ‘extremophiles’ (tiny organisms that thrive in extreme environments) in Kenya , cloned and later sold them to Procter &Gamble , which used them as critical ingredients in the manufacture of the detergent. The KWS has written to lawyers working for Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors (PIIPA) in the US to handle the matter on its behalf.
* See also the response: 'Yes, we got specimens from Kenya – Genencor' ,The East African, 6 September 2004 . Genencor International Inc, has admitted that its scientists obtained biological materials from Kenya's Rift Valley lakes of Bogoria and Nakuru that it later sold to unnamed detergent and chemical manufacturers. The company has however refuted allegations that it sold any of the material to Procter & Gamble.

5.0. Towards Safer, Healthier, Gender Sensitive Anti-Imperialist Sanitary Products in Kenya

You read that section caption right, dear reader.

I have a very simple proposal.

Kenyan women can and should break loose from the commercial stranglehold of Procter &Gamble( Always and Tampax) and its corporate rivals. It is possible to have a viable, lucrative home grown sanitary and feminine products industry that is controlled by Kenyan women in economic arrangements that are the very anti-thesis of the monopolistic octopuses that make a killing from women's pussies.

I happen to know the principals of Blood Sisters and Urban Armor since they are based right here in Montreal and at one point they used to be a working group partly subsidized by the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at McGill where I happen to be employed as the Program Coordinator. If a group of working class women in Quebec could come together to set up a going small business concern that is based on the menstrual needs, surely the same thing is quite possible in Kenya using a number of business models from worker cooperatives, to partnerships and limited companies, not speaking of a joint venture in which the Kenyan government puts in a stake.

But these possibilities have to meet the political reality checks: the NARC regime, like KANU before it, is a neo-colonial outfit that has been put in place to protect the economic interests of the Procter &Gambles of the world.

How will these powerful corporations dominated by middle aged rich white males react when a bunch of feisty Kenyan women dare to come together and limit the commercial exploitation of their lunar flows?

You tell me...

Onyango Oloo

1 comment:

Tampon Tribe said...

Hi Very Nice Blog I Have Read Your Post It Is Very Informative And Useful Thanks For Posting And Sharing With Us And Your Writting Style Is Very Nice.
Our certified Organic Pads panty liners, and tampons are naturally absorbent, safe, comfortable and hypoallergenic to provide comfort and protection you can trust.