'We have sex with them then they buy us things like pads or give us something to eat’ said 17 year old Brillian
living in Kawangware. Our story began in 2018, we help guide, mentor and support girls and young women living in Nairobi Slums. COVID-19 has brought many challenges. A fundamental one is young girls exchanging sex for sanitary pads or as documented “sex for pads”, exchanging sex for food and the increase in teenage pregnancy with nearly 4,000 girls affected since March 2020. Before the government’s uproar about the situation, we shot a documentary looking into the effects of the pandemic on girls and young women.
Households are forced to choose between, buying coronavirus protective necessities, putting food on the table; furthermore, for the girls the decision to buy food or buy sanitary pads is undisputed. Due to school closure, many girls have found themselves in environments that are not conducive, it’s either abusive or dysfunctional. Girls are now more afraid to ask for sanitary pads. Still, the discrimination on lack of adequate sex education in schools and the social belief that menstruation is a taboo topic to be discussed continues.
One Month after shooting the mini-documentary, one of the girls in our program started heavily using drugs to numb the pain of everything. Physically, mentally and emotionally. That is when we decided to support girlswith monthly access to sanitary pads. The girls are aged 13 – 17, they are forced to endure, what should be classified as rape to maintain themselves and their households.
In the last 2 months, we have been able to support 103 girls in Kibera and Kawangware slums with access to sanitary pads. Each girl is given a double pack of 10s of sanitary pads for 1 month and, 1 reusable face mask. We understand that this should not be limited to giving out sanitary pads, we further engage in mentorship sessions in Kibera. In Kawangware, we have a different approach, since the outcry was more on income we set up a space where girls can come and learn income-generating skills, in addition to this, we have conversations on self-esteem, hope, sexual health and more. We hope to be able to support an additional 300 girls with accessto sanitary pads for the next 3 months.
Therefore, to support the girls long term and in a pragmatic manner, we decided to register a CBO to work with the community chief, and community leaders for long term effects. Herpowerment is a community based organization working with girls and young women in Kenyan slums to restore hope and challenge the reality of inequality, our ultimate goal is to spark uncomfortable conversations that will lead to change.