Girls with disabilities are subject to double discrimination, as they grapple both with being female, and having a disability. They are less likely to be able to access health information and services and their disabilities also exclude them from regular peer support in the development of social skills during menstruation. Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes that women and girls with disabilities face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. In the preamble to the Convention attention is drawn to the particular susceptibility of women and girls with disabilities to violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.
Majority of girls in low income communities have no access to clean and safe sanitary products or to a clean and private space in which to change menstrual cloths or pads and to clean up. In Kibera, and other low income communities where The Action Foundation works, toilets located beyond 15 meters from the house make women fear for their safety especially when they have to access these facilities at night. This causes significant anxiety and fear and it can be additionally stigmatizing to use the toilets and shared wash facilities. More so, there are also no disability friendly toilets for the girls. For girls with disabilities, the social taboo around menstruation compounds their disability-related barriers, because they are not always capable of understanding exactly what menstruation is, or able to manage it independently. They recognize the shame, but may not understand the reason for it. Girls with intellectual disabilities who are non-verbal have great challenges communicating what they are feeling or experiencing.Without structured support to help them learn about menstruation, girls with intellectual disabilities are unlikely to learn about their bodies.
Menstruation during puberty in ordinary circumstances can be scary, and mysterious. However, the added pressure to be invisible and silent makes this a very difficult transition without proper information and support of parents and caregivers of girls with intellectual disabilities.There is a pressing need to teach the girls what is happening to them and the best ways to take care of themselves.
For a young woman living with intellectual disability, there is a need for extra help with pads, use and disposal education, and enhanced support for parents and guardians. Girls with disabilities have a myriad of needs and menstrual hygiene management is often not prioritized. There is great need for change around this to avoid extreme solutions like sterilization, which has happened to some girls who have intellectual disabilities in many parts of Kenya. This can be achieved by supporting parents and caregivers by helping them address the specific needs of the young women they care for.
Girls and women of all ages with any form of disability are among the most vulnerable and marginalized of society thus they may have even less information and access to appropriate educational interventions about menstruation. The Action Foundation’s Ibuka Girls Initiative works to create discussions about puberty, personal hygiene and menstruation among girls with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers. We encourage their parents and caregivers to take an active role in social protection of girls with disabilities by building their awareness on sexual and reproductive health rights and menstrual management.Girls with physical and intellectual disability require social and personal support in a safe environment when they begin menstruation. It’s high time we address issues around period shame and strive towards ensuring a dignified life for adolescent girls with disability. Menstruation should be experienced with utmost dignity and safety; let’s strive towards ensuring dignified and safe menstruation.