Female students in Kenya, who cannot afford sanitary pads, stay away from school during their menstrual period, but usually stuff their underwear with tissues or rags to help keep the blood from flowing down their legs.

Class attendance drops when the girls are menstruating and the government is offering them sanitary pads to motivate them to come to school.

A promise has been made by the government that every schoolgirl in Kenya is entitled to “free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels” and a safe place to dispose them.

As A Basic Human Right

This is part of the provisions of a law introduced on Tuesday.

“We are treating the access to sanitary pads as a basic human right,” government spokesman Eric Kiraithe told the Reuters news agency.

“We are improving the sanitation and healthcare of our schoolgirls, which will boost their class attendance.”

Menstruation is still a taboo in many countries around the world, where it’s often considered embarrassing or shameful.

One in 10 African girls miss school during their periods, the UN children’s agency UNICEF estimates, which means they fall behind in their studies and often drop out of school.

“This will give girls confidence to attend class on any day of the month, consequently improving their academic performance,” said Albanous Gituru, the director of Shining Hope for Communities, a girls’ school in Nairobi’s Kibera slum.

Girls can miss up to 15 days of school each term because they cannot afford sanitary products, he said.

In neighbouring Uganda, researchers from Oxford University found absenteeism from school was 17% higher among girls who had no access to sanitary towels or information about puberty.

When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3%. Each additional year of secondary schooling leads to a 15 to 25% increase in a girl’s potential income, say gender equality campaigners.

The new policy that makes sanitary pad available for girls will cost Kenya 500 million shillings ($4.8 million or 1.8 billion Naira) a year, Kiraithe said.

It is an expansion of a 2011 programme that provided pads to girls from poor families.