Dismantling Menstrual Taboo by Empowering Female Entrepreneurs
Highlights from Days for Girls & Village Enterprise collaboration in Mt. Elgon, Kenya
In 2019, Village Enterprise and Days for Girls (DfG) began working together in Mt. Elgon, Kenya at the intersection of menstrual health and women’s economic empowerment.
Supported by a grant from The Starbucks Foundation, our work with communities in this mountainous, coffee-growing region sought to address the gender-specific barriers to education and economic success faced by women and girls. The DfG and Village Enterprise partnership works with individuals living in extreme poverty, providing them with business and financial literacy training, ongoing mentorship, and a seed capital grant, empowering them to start two social enterprises dedicated to producing and selling washable menstrual pad kits. These kits act as a cost effective, long-lasting, and environmentally friendly period solution. The enterprises also deliver comprehensive menstrual health education, facilitate conversations to dismantle menstrual taboo and stigma, and advocate for policies that support menstrual health.
Amani Enterprise is one of two enterprises in the Mt. Elgon region that have engaged with Village Enterprise and Days for Girls (DfG) combined business training programs. The women who lead Amani may seem like unlikely candidates for ambitious and successful business owners: all three are elder widows who lost their husbands to political conflict in the region. They did not have the opportunity to receive much formal education, or learn how to read or write. And yet, Amani is among the most ambitious, passionate, and innovative enterprises in the DfG Kenya cohort.
The menstrual health challenge
In many East African communities, menstruation is a stealthy and formidable barrier to gender equity. The topic is taboo, especially in public forums, and so often goes unaddressed. Yet, the impact of inadequate menstrual health may be seen in many facets of life. When women and girls do not have what they need to manage their periods with dignity, they experience barriers to:
- Good health, including urinary and genital infection
- Education, including dropping out, absenteeism, presenteeism (difficulty focusing or performing as usual)
- Workplace stability and advancement, including wage loss and supervisor disapproval,
- Economic and bodily autonomy, including early marriage and unplanned pregnancy,
- Mental health, including stigmatization that contributes to anxiety and depression.
Having experienced these barriers firsthand, the women at Amani Enterprise joined the fight for menstrual equity in Mt. Elgon with dedication and excitement. While Village Enterprise’s robust business training laid strong foundations for Amani’s business success, Days for Girls menstrual kit production and education training empowered them to address this taboo issue.
Within three months of launching their business, the enterprise achieved DfG Gold Certification status. This Certification indicates excellent quality and consistency in menstrual products, communications, and education services; Gold Certified enterprises are able to work with individual clients, local organizations, and large partners referred to them by Days for Girls International.
Building local markets by honoring community
In October, Amani leveraged the Priceless Pads Campaign (a global DfG promotion that provided clients with a discount) to secure kit orders from local businesses.
Through these orders, the enterprise reached 455 students in local Mt. Elgon secondary schools with DfG kits and menstrual health education. The school events raised awareness about menstrual health, as well as the solutions offered by Amani. Parents and community members now visit the enterprise to purchase their own DfG kits, bringing along questions they may have about menstruation – a form of direct sales that is rare in low-income communities like Mt. Elgon.
Still, cost remains a barrier for many in the community to access menstrual health solutions. The women at Amani are acutely aware of this gap and they are working to close it by advocating to local leaders, inviting them to prioritize menstrual health products for students in local budgets. They have provided menstrual health education to local chiefs, the Deputy County Commissioner office, and Members of County Assembly, securing commitments from leaders to support the girl child.
In the community, Amani continues to raise awareness through creative mediums. During past times of political conflict in Mt. Elgon, musical groups played a significant role in reconciliation processes by writing and performing songs of unity and peacebuilding. Amani has carried this part of their community’s history and culture forward to tackle another complex topic through song: menstruation. They have partnered with those same local musical groups to compose and record a song about breaking down menstrual stigma and the empowerment of the girl child.
The song makes strong connections between menstrual health and placing the futures of girls in their own hands. Performers sing, “Let’s teach our girls that even though she has started her period, it does not mean she has to become a mother.”
This song debuted at a community event in November hosted by DfG and Village Enterprise to celebrate the shift in conversation around menstrual health that has taken place over the last year, breaking the silence while providing practical solutions for women and girls.
Together, Amani and Baraka (the second Village Enterprise/DfG enterprise) reached 1060 girls at the event with DfG kits and menstrual health education. Hundreds more received education and were invited to become allies for menstrual health, including men and boys. A true community effort, the event included 28 chiefs from the region, the Deputy County Commissioner, representatives from the Ministry of Education and Education Board, and partners from a local NGO that works to address gender-based violence.
Part of a movement
Overall, Amani and Baraka Enterprises are key parts of a bigger movement within the work of DfG Kenya that supports locally-led efforts to advance menstrual equity.
From 2017-2019, DfG Kenya enterprises collectively reached an average of roughly 17,000 women and girls per year with kits and education. In 2020, that number skyrocketed to roughly 41,400 women and girls — even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Mt. Elgon region, in particular, the combined strengths of Village Enterprise and DfG have helped to cultivate strong and independent enterprises like Amani that are leading change in their communities. DfG and Village Enterprise seek to add to this momentum, reaching 10,000 women, children and men by November 2022.
By: Haley Millet, DFG Advocacy and Program Manager