The President of Kenya, Uhurru Kenyatta signed a law on Wednesday that shifts the burden of covering the cost of periods from families and girls to the government.
The government hopes that providing sanitary pads will help boost girls access to education. A statement released by the President’s office did not detail how the government plans to distribute sanitary pads, only that it would set aside funding to distribute pads.
In East Africa, four out of five girls miss school because of their period, according to ZanaAfrica, a partner of Global Citizen and non-profit organization that provides health education and sanitary pads to girls in Kenya.
Globally, an estimated 1 million girls miss up to 20% of the school year because they lack access to the tools to manage menstrual cycles.
The new law says that government will be responsible for providing, “free, sufficient, and quality sanitary towels” and “a safe and environmentally sound” method of disposal for girls in school, the BBC reports.
A statement released by the President’s office did not detail how the government plans to distribute sanitary pads, only that it would assess and set aside the required amount to be able to provide sanitary pads and disposal methods.
If the new law is surprising, it shouldn’t be. Kenya has quietly been leading a menstrual hygiene revolution for years.
A decade ago, Kenya became the first country to ditch a tax on sanitary products in an effort to make them more affordable for women and to keep more girls in school. (The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia are currently still debating tampon tax policy.)
In 2011, the government began allocating $3 million to distribute sanitary napkins to schools in low-income communities.
Reaching and teaching girls about menstrual health in Kenya, however, may be a challenge.
Two million girls will need to receive menstrual hygiene support in Kenya for the government to meet its new promise, according to the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
More than 42% of Kenya’s population lives in poverty and 65% of women find sanitary pads too expensive. This can make keeping the products in schools a challenge, according to Megan White Mukuria, ZanaAfrica founder.
Many Kenyan girls who don’t have access to sanitary products use chicken feathers, cheap mattresses and newspapers to fashion makeshift pads, Murkuria told NPR last year.
But Mukuria said she believes that international recognition and awareness on menstrual health could help countries like Kenya better implement programs for menstrual health education.
"The country is prioritizing young women and girls.” Murkuria said.“If the Kenyan government can put pads in schools, why can't the US do that?"