News / Africa

    In Slums of Nairobi, Sex for Sanitation

    Girls receive a year's worth of sanitary napkins from Freedom for Girls, Mathare slums in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 9, 2012. (Jill Craig/VOA)
    Girls receive a year's worth of sanitary napkins from Freedom for Girls, Mathare slums in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 9, 2012. (Jill Craig/VOA)
    Jill Craig

    Roughly half of all girls in slums of Kenya have sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins. In response to these estimates, healthcare advocates are distributing napkins to girls as part of a nationwide campaign.

    Health educator Lydiah Njoroge, a field officer for the Freedom for Girls Program, an initiative of HEART (Health Education Africa Resource Team), distributes towels to girls in Mathare, a collection of Nairobi ghettos where poverty is so severe that girls are unable to purchase even the most affordable brands.

    "The least [expensive] in the market is 40 shillings ... a packet that has eight pieces in it," says Njoroge. "So, because this girl cannot afford 40 shillings -- their mother, their parents are poor, they have other things to provide food and shelter - sanitary towels are not a priority. So the girl just goes [and] has sex with an older man, most of the time not the same man -- they would have one this month, another one next month, so they are very, very at risk of having HIV."

    In other words, for 40 shillings - about 50 cents - girls and young women repeatedly put their lives at risk.

    Lack of education

    According to Njoroge and fellow teachers in Mathare, about 50 percent of girls between 10 and 19 have had sex with older men to pay for a range of basic items. But sanitary napkins are a uniquely critical resource: Not only are they vital to a young woman's health, but, without them, schoolgirls are forced to stay home during menstrual cycles, missing up to five days of class each month.

    "It depends on the immediate need," says Janet Nzioka, deputy head teacher of Mathare's St. James School, explaining that girls use any remaining funds for food and clothing. "You can get food maybe at home, but, you know, sanitary towels, some of that you have to buy, so they prefer buying."

    Lack of sex education at home, she adds, is another significant part of the problem.

    "Let me say that people are becoming wicked," Nzioka says. "When these men approach these girls, they give in. Why? Because the parents sometimes are far from them, they have no time to talk about sex education with them. So when any man approaches them and they are ready to offer money in exchange for sex, they just say yes."

    Twelve-year-old Ivone, a student from the Mathare Community Development Education Center, is all too familiar with these exchanges.

    "When I’m just walking on the way, they call you," she says. "But my friends, sometimes they go. Sometimes they don’t go. But me, I said no to sex, but some are poor and they want that, they tell those men to give them money, then they do sex."

    A 14-year-old friend, she says, has had sex with men her father’s age for money to buy napkins.

    "They did sex, then the men were not having money, they were just lying," says Ivone. "Then, after doing sex, they left her there."

    Njoroge says resources in the slums are so scarce that it's often difficult for girls to find any kind of substitute materials.

    "These other materials are not also available," she says. "They have three, four, five siblings after them. So you tear a blanket today - tomorrow, in a year, you don’t have any blanket to cover yourself with."

    But without sanitary napkins in particular, she says, long-term life goals are compromised, which is why the distribution campaign helps to keep girls like Ivone in school longer.

    "Last year, [after] the national examinations, the Grade Eight exams, I was excited to hear that girls in most schools that I had been to during the distribution had topped [passed], and are being called to good secondary schools," says Njoroge. "That girl, you know, she told me she has a dream of being a nurse, a teacher, and in the next 10 years she will be that."

    All because something as basic as a sanitary napkin, a year's supply of which, according to Freedom for Girls, costs roughly $5 per girl.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora