CONCEPT PAPER: SAWA SAWA COLLECTION
Education is essential in developing a generation of girls that will become empowered women. Keeping girls in school consistently gives them a fighting chance at having opportunities equal to those of boys in the same environment. Adolescent girls in rural Kenya miss an average of one week of school every month to remain at home during menstruation. According to action aid, over 50% of these girls cannot afford sanitary pads that would allow them to attend school during their menses. Most of these girls end up dropping out of school before they earn a diploma. Shame and stigma prevent the girls from speaking out openly about their needs and asking for help. The BBC reported that a girl committed suicide in 2019 after being shamed by a teacher in front of her peers at school. The constant fight with nature and cultural humiliation strips girls of their self-esteem, courage and the life choices that come with getting an education. There is a direct correlation between menstruation shaming and continued abject poverty in rural Kenya.
In our efforts to empower artisan women in rural Kenya, we have found that mental freedom is essential. Most of these women are already in the poverty trap and cannot imagine there could be a way out. With this realization, we empower adolescent girls to see their potential and the opportunities that life can offer, helping them dream of a better world and their place in it. We achieve this by providing for their sanitary hygiene needs, and educating both girls and boys about the natural process of menstruation. We seek to end shame and stigma and keep girls where they need to be to succeed.
Education and development should not be hindered by the natural process of menstruation.
Period poverty is a major issue facing adolescent girls in Kenya. Adolescent girls lack effective, affordable, hygienic and sustainable solutions for dealing with menstruation. Most girls miss school or drop out entirely to avoid the public while on their period. Cultural taboos and the stigma associated with menstruation make girls mortified and ashamed by this natural process.
Without help, many girls do not complete their education. They are married off at an early age and have children early. They lose any chance of escaping poverty or fulfilling their potential. They do not contribute to their communities or economy. They are condemned to a life of strife and economic reliance, as are their children.
Our team provides the young women of rural Kenya with a proper understanding of the changes happening to their bodies. We educate them on menstrual hygiene, and encourage them to strive to be women of substance. We provide them with pads, underwear, and toiletries.
Menstruation kits should not be a privilege of the rich and urban. Menstruation is a natural process should be celebrated and its understanding should be encouraged and supported. According to the most recent Kenyan census report, 50.1% of the population is female, and 72% live in rural areas susceptible to poverty. Most of the population is young – the United Nations lists the median age in Kenya as 19. Funding programs that will encourage girls to become educated, join the workforce and contribute to the economy will raise the country out of poverty. Lifting the burden of menstrual shaming and misunderstanding from girls’ shoulders will free their minds to learn and become curious about life’s possibilities. Adolescent girls should not be exposed to the vulnerabilities that come with desperation. Our program seeks to intervene menstrual shame in the villages where our artisans reside. We work with local schools that serve as a center of community and gathering. The program is of service to girls in Oloitoktok and Maasai Mara. We will serve additional artisan villages as our program expands.
Theory of Change
By eliminating the stigma and shame of menstruation, we will improve the quality of life for the girls of rural Kenya and their families. Without shame girls will stay in school and receive a consistent education that will allow them to compete with boys on equal terms. The girls will be healthier mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and physically. They will be happier and willing to engage in co-curricular activities. They will learn in their areas of interest and discover their gifts and talents, which will lead to them becoming passionate about life and their path to adulthood. They will work harder to achieve that which they aspire to be. They will have choices – whether to pursue traditional, career or hybrid roles. They will choose spouses in their own time and have children later in life when they are established and can afford better healthcare. They will not be bound by negative culture and the men that would control them. The girls that stay in school will become the women that will bring light into their communities. They will be better mothers, wives, teachers, doctors, and engineers. By keeping the girls of rural Kenya in school, we will dismantle one of the primary causes of the cycle of poverty and dependence.
To ensure that the daughters of our artisans have a better life than the generation of women before them. They will have the freedom that comes with education. They will improve upon that which their mothers have built. They will be innovative, creative, and empowered. They will be armed with knowledge and choices. Our goal is a healthy, happy, educated generation of girls.
Our mission is to empower artisan women in rural Kenya to earn a sustainable income through skills passed down through generations. We provide the tools and materials to create, buy their handmade products at a price that gives them an income that exceeds a living wage, and use the revenues from our sales to fund programs that improve the quality of life for the women and their families. Through empathetic listening and spending time with these women, we have gained an understanding of the unique challenges faced by them as individuals, and by their communities and villages. As a result, we have launched this initiative to help our artisan women and their daughters become educated and independent.
Women and girls in our artisan communities come from deeply patriarchal cultures. The women in Maasai tribes are owned by their fathers and later by their husbands. They are responsible for all the chores in the home including building houses, raising children, caring for livestock, cooking, cleaning, fetching water, and more. Girls are often married off into polygamous families as young as at the time of their first menstruation.
By relieving girls of cultural menstrual shaming and keeping them in school, we save them from a myriad of problems associated with patriarchy and cyclic poverty. The girls participate in more activities at school, at home, and in their community. They are free to enjoy their youth and the activities that allow them to develop mentally and physically.
Ending menstrual shame allows teachers, mothers and daughters to talk openly about reproduction. Boys learn to be supportive of girls in class and their sisters during this time and to be sensitive and understanding of the symptoms that accompany the process. These boys will grow into men that are more compassionate toward the women in their lives and get more involved in decisions involving their women partners and their reproductive health.
Our outcome creates an environment in which girls learn about and accept their bodies and are able to cope with their periods without shame. We educate boys to learn and talk openly about menstruation and give them an understanding of their role in being supportive and kind. We encourage teachers to help girls to be comfortable in their classrooms and to avoid humiliating them and perpetuating stigma. Our outcome gets the whole community ready to be a part of ending period poverty by talking about it, asking questions, and expressing concerns and ideas.
– Coordinate with local village schools and local women groups at the beginning of the school term
– Arrive at the village, settle down, rest, freshen up, and prepare for the following day
– Spend an hour with the local teachers and student board. Create a rapport
– Talk to the students as a group following a pre-agreed curriculum
– Talk to the girls alone. Safe space time to ask any questions and speak freely
– Distribute gift bags to the girls that includes their menstrual kit
– Talk to the boys alone, hear their comments, answer questions, talk about safe sex etc.
– Share ‘tea’ with the students, giving them time to approach us individually if they need to talk, report abuse at home, etc.
– Bring additional supply boxes of pads to the principal for the girls to receive during the term on an as-needed basis
– Spend some time over a cup of tea with the artisan women – mothers of the girls – to hear their needs and answer any questions
– Spend a day in the local community with villagers to learn of additional ways in which we can be of service to the girls