On the 14th of August, Kakamega Central House saw its first ever Period Party.
I had been researching cheaper and more sustainable alternatives to the poorly supplied sanitary pad system our school uses, and became interested in menstrual cups as a possible solution. After making some enquiries, I found that many companies could potentially supply a large number for free or at a discounted rate.
After myself and other Project Workers presented our findings at Midsummer Meeting, we started to brainstorm ideas for how to broach this rather taboo subject in school. We concluded that we did not have the relevant information on cultural attitudes towards such an item and we needed to gauge its potential success by talking to local women and seeing how they felt about it. To be honest, we love an excuse for a party.
The Period Party concept is born
We advertised it somewhat deceptively as a “ladies night” and invited some key women from our networks; from Guidance and Counselling teachers to our watchmens’ wives and daughters. Once we had appeased them with soda and crisps, it was revealed to our unsuspecting ladies that the agenda for the night would be all things to do with menstruation.
I spent the meeting and greeting section making name stickers announcing a multitude of seemingly simple names with unexpectedly complex spellings. After the youngest children were taken off by Jenny to play a rather animated game of sardines, we split into two groups; one for the sceptics and one for the women who had expressed some curiosity (or amusement) at the theme. The two groups soon began to share tales of their first periods, discussing at length the best ways of easing cramps, satisfying cravings and regulating mood changes.
In the more liberal group we followed the anecdote session with a more targeted discussion about the problems faced by girls at school whilst on their period and brainstorming solutions to them. The older women shared their wisdom and compared their experiences with the younger girls, and together they came up with potential solutions. The sceptics needed a little more encouragement but eventually both groups were able to share their top three methods for combating period cramps and hiding accidents. As it turns out, chocolate isn’t as much of a thing in Kakamega as it is in the UK! Their go-tos are hot or cold compresses and exercise.
The aim of the conversation was to try and understand the challenges that Kenyan women face and that as “wazungus” we are not able to foresee. We found that actually, when it comes to menstruation, the problems and respective solutions are relatively universal and provided no deal breakers to the introduction of our beloved menstrual cup. We dived under the previously broken ice with some explicit demonstrations of the different menstrual products, gradually increasing in level of insertion and number of gasps: sanitary pads, applicator tampons, non-applicator tampons and finally menstrual cups.
You win some you lose some
We quickly took a strategic break and served a dinner of Chapati, cabbage and guacamole, which we found was not favoured by the Kenyan Women quite as much as by the Kakamega PWs. Unfortunately, a few women announced their exit shortly after dinner, with expressions carrying a mix of shock and disgust. Much like in the UK, the idea takes some getting used to…
The remaining women continued to ask questions (albeit with a bit of a giggle) about the cups and about our first hand experience of them. Emily and I, both enthusiastic cup converts, shared stories of our first times using them, and demonstrated with lunges and vigorous dancing just how resilient and leak-proof they are.
After some raucous laughter and incredulous stares, a few of the women said they would definitely be keen to try using menstrual cups and could see how much these might help girls afford proper sanitation. Overall, the party was a huge success.
Since then we have convinced 11 other women to give it a go and found a number of supportive studies in East Africa. We have now bought 20 cups from Grace Cup, a social enterprise run by a woman called Ebby in Nairobi who also offers social support for the women. We hope that gaining some users and advocates in the older generation will encourage some of the younger generation to give it a go and contribute to our end goal of sustainable menstrual hygiene management.