Janet Mbugua: “Women and girls are still being forced to choose between food and sanitary products. It’s a form of oppression.”
As a TV anchor and journalist, Janet Mbugua was horrified by a feature story that evidenced period poverty in Kenya’s rural communities. It became a turning point that led to the creation of the Inua Dada campaign, which Janet later went on to register as a foundation, focused combatting period poverty and sexual and gender-based violence closely connected to it.
In 2013 we featured a story from Baringo County, where many girls were dropping out of school and getting pregnant, and it was linked to period poverty. The programme showed products girls were using instead of sanitary pads – chicken feathers, goat hide. For it to be on prime time, on the most watched station in the region, it shifted the conversation in a big way. It created a lot of discussion, people were outraged. A few days later, people left packets of pads at the work gate. Kenya’s First Lady at the time decided to visit the county where the story originated. It then became a campaign based on donations and supplying sanitary pads.
In 2014 I registered Inua Dada – meaning ‘uplift a sister’ – as a foundation. In the last twelve months we’ve opened a centre in Nairobi and bought a pad making machine. This provides economic opportunities for GBV survivors, and we distribute the pads to schools. The machine also works as tool for conversation, it’s the entry point for community dialogues dubbed ‘Tandika Leso’, which provides a safe space to have critical conversations and collect data on survivors experiences and the gaps they face. Most of the women that attend the dialogues are GBV survivors. Often teen mums. We have begun providing psychosocial support and now looking into facilitating legal aid. Many survivors still don’t know what to do with their cases. Women and girls in Kenya are still being forced to choose between food and sanitary products. It’s a form of oppression - and snowballs into GBV. This year, the organisation has reached more than 1000 survivors through economic empowerment and psychosocial support programmes.
The media plays a vital role in shifting opinions, and we cannot overlook this. They could be stronger allies. Maybe sustained conversations with gatekeepers – such as pastors, elders – would really help. Issues of GBV can also be addressed in a very careless manner sometimes. News coverage can be too politicised at times, and there could be more diversification, more human interest focused. It needs to creative, collaborative, and consistent. I wasn’t from civil society, I wasn’t technical - I was a media person. It felt intimidating at times. It would be great if there was a point where media and advocacy could meet to create impact. I published a book in 2019 ‘My first time’, using storytelling to achieve acceptance across different cultures, religions, backgrounds. The point was that this shouldn’t be taboo anymore. All of us menstruate – you’re not weird.
There’s a real pushback on bodily autonomy, and a quiet resentment towards women and girls’ agency. We need sit down and talk with supporters of patriarchy – and that’s not just men.
There was a teenage mum in one of our dialogues and she told me some women welcome early pregnancy. I’ve never forgotten that, and it shows how much dialogue we need to have.