The death of a 14-year-old girl who committed suicide has sparked outrage in Kenya.
According to The Guardian, the girl took her own life after a teacher allegedly embarrassed her for having her period during class.
The girl’s mom said her daughter died last Friday after she got her period in class and stained her clothes. The teacher allegedly called her “dirty” and sent her away from the classroom in Kabiangek. According to the girl’s mother, it was her first period and she didn’t have a sanitary pad.
The girl’s death has sparked protests from women parliamentarians and reignited national talk about “period shaming” and access to menstrual products.
A 2017 law requires the Kenyan government distribute free sanitary pads to all schoolgirls. However, poor execution of the law has been the subject of a parliamentary investigation. On Wednesday, female MPs took over the education ministry to protest the girl’s death and to discuss the program, said MP Esther Passaris on Twitter.
More than 200 parents also made their outrage known outside the school in Kabiangek this week, according to local media. They condemned both the teacher and the alleged lack of action from authorities. Cops used tear gas to break up the protestors and they arrested at least five people. The school has been temporarily closed and a regional police chief, Alex Shikondi, said the girl’s death is being investigated.
Access to menstrual products is a big issue across sub-Saharan Africa due to an inability to afford sanitary products. This causes girls to avoid school during their periods. A 2014 Unesco report estimates that one in 10 girls are absent from school during menstruation, which means they’re not present for 20% of their schooling year.
Kenya was considered a leader to addressing this issue, especially when they passed their 2017 law requiring the government give out free pads to schoolgirls. However, some people question whether the $4.5 million set aside for the program has helped with access to sanitary products and increased school attendance. Passaris said on Wednesday that the program’s budget would have to be “at least 10 times” larger than it is now if all Kenyan schoolgirls were to get free sanitary towels.
The education ministry and Teachers Service Commission of Kenya are carrying out their own investigation into the schoolgirl’s death, according to Passaris, and the report is scheduled for publication in the coming weeks.
“We had a candid discussion about sanitary towels, the little girl who died, and the investigation that is ensuing,” she said. “We need to make it so that girls aren’t ashamed of their periods, and I don’t think we’ve won that battle yet.”