A 14-Year-Old Was Reportedly Driven To Suicide After She Was Humiliated At Her Own School For Having Her Period
A 14-year-old Kenyan girl killed herself after being period shamed by a teacher when she did not have access to a pad. The tragedy has caused unrest in Kenya, unifying women Parliament members to end period stigma, causing parents to mobilize, and launching a formal investigation into the girl’s death. Period shame around the world is an oppressive force that undermines bodily autonomy, education, and personal freedoms for girls and nonbinary people by stigmatizing a basic body function.
According to the United Nations Population Fund report on Menstrual Health Management in East and Southern Africa, “Studies from Kenya find that schoolgirls engage in transactional sex to pay for menstrual products, particularly for the younger, uneducated, economically dependent girls.”
In the United States, a survey of 1500 women and 500 men by THINX revealed that 58 percent of women felt a sense of embarrassment for simply being on their period and 42 percent said they had been explicitly period shamed.
While Kenya has recently taken steps to make sanitary napkins more accessible at schools, this structural failure has led to a tragic loss.
Period shaming can have tragic consequences.
A 14-year-old Kenyan girl started her period for the very first time while at middle school in Bomet County, Kenya. When she couldn’t obtain a pad, the girl began to bleed through her school uniform. Unable to concentrate, due to the incident, she asked for help. Then her teacher berated her in class, calling her “dirty” for staining her clothes.
Forced to leave the classroom, she walked home. After telling her mother what happened, she said she was going to go fetch water, but instead, she killed herself. According to a local Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation, Konoin Sub-County Police Commander Alex Shikondi said that officers took the girl’s body to a nearby hospital.
“When police arrived at the scene, they found the girl had committed suicide… and the body was moved to Kapkatet Hospital mortuary,” said Commander Alex Shikondi.
Parents want answers.
The girl’s mother, Beatrice Koech, spoke to Daily Nation about what happened. She claimed her daughter believed the female teacher would be an ally to her, and help her understand what was happening. Instead, her daughter was shamed in front of the classroom.
“She had nothing to use as a pad,” Koech told the newspaper. “When the blood stained her clothes, she was told to leave the classroom and stand outside.”
Koech reported the incident to police, but after four days of inaction, parents stormed the school in protest. Parents wanted to know why the teacher shamed the 14-year-old. Police threw tear gas canisters at the parents who were blocking the road to the school. Officers arrested five demonstrators. The school was closed and students were sent home.
Basic Education Act of 2017
Kenya passed the Basic Education of 2017, which makes access to menstrual napkins mandatory in public schools across the country. Pads in public schools are not a mere luxury, the necessary product is inaccessible to many in the region. Just last year, the capital of Kenya itself was hit with a tampon shortage when there was massive Kotex recall in Nairobi due to a malfunctioning batch.
When a person has their period and no sanitary napkins or tampons, they are more likely to stay home from school. This can have negative effects on girls’ and nonbinary folks’ education and self-esteem, often making children feel like a burden.
“The cost of menstrual products may also contribute to the perception that daughters are economically burdensome,” according to the United Nations.
School is often the only place where students can get pads, which is why the Basic Education Act is great. Nevertheless, many schools have still not implemented the program or have been skipped over.
Kenyans want justice.
According to BuzzFeed, “An organization called One Dollar for Life, which makes and distributes reusable pads to girls across Kenya, has ramped up its outreach in light of the girl’s death last week. Program manager Brenda Birrell told BuzzFeed News via email that the group plans to hand out 1,000 reusable pad kits — which also contain information about self-defense, female biology, and feminine hygiene — over the next two months.”
Women members of Kenyan’s Parliament occupied the Ministry of Education to pressure a police investigation. After parents and lawmakers held their ground, the police finally launched a formal investigation into the girl’s death.
“What must she be going through in her life to have that be her reaction?” Megan White Mukuria, whose organization ZanaAfrica Foundation provides pads and reproductive education to girls, told BuzzFeed.
“The reality for a lot of women can be very difficult. [Maybe] her cup has not been filled, and her rights have not been taught to her.”