It’s a girl thing:

Menstruation, school attendance, spatial mobility and wider gender inequalities in Kenya


This study uses a feminist framework to examine how cultural and spatial limitations affect post-pubescent girls’ mobility and access to education in Kisumu, Kenya.


It’s a girl thing: Menstruation, school attendance, spatial mobility and wider gender inequalities in Kenya


Jewitt, Sarah and Harriet Ryley




Jewitt, Sarah and Harriet Ryley. 2014. “It’s a Girl Thing: Menstruation, School Attendance, Spatial Mobility and Wider Gender Inequalities in Kenya.” Geoforum 56: 137-147.

Study Location


Key Words

LMICs, Kenya, gender, school absenteeism, sanitary pads, feminist theory, sexual exploitation

Type of Research

Peer-reviewed, Quantitative research, Case study

Major Take-Aways

  • Qualitative data from girls and teachers in our study area clearly suggested that improved access to sanitary products could address some key emotional and practical problems underlying girls’ absenteeism. Especially important is their role in reducing the risk of shame/embarrassment from visible menstrual leaks, which in turn helps girls to concentrate better and feel more confident as well as allowing them greater spatial mobility within and outside school. -The inconvenience/pain of menstruation can be important as can wider gender norms that give girls responsibility for household or farm-based work and restrict their mobility, as they mature, in an attempt to prevent unwanted pregnancy .
  • Poverty also plays an important role in parental decisions about withdrawing girls from school and is a key factor pushing young girls into transactional sex or prostitution.
  • A more strategic approach is needed. This could include compulsory sex education, better training for teachers on such topics, and earlier teaching of MHM to ensure that girls receive it before reaching menarche. The expansion of such programs could help to close the knowledge gap that many girls have about puberty, MHM and sexual/reproductive health. The addition of a more dedicated ‘rights’ based emphasis within SHRH packages at both school and community levels, meanwhile, may help to challenge the widespread cultural acceptance of girls’ sexual exploitation/gendered violence and tackle some of the pressures that put girls at risk of such harms

Identified Research Gaps

MHM remains a relatively neglected sub-sector of this field and there is an urgent need for more detailed empirical work on how girls’ experiences of menstruation and puberty vary in different geographical (including rural versus urban) and cultural contexts. Theoretically, meanwhile, Kirk and Sommer (2006, 12) identify a conceptual challenge from feminist theory to ‘work on menstruation issues in a strategic way and avoid further entrenching notions of the female body as ‘messy’, ‘leaky’, ‘disruptive’ and problematic to the serious processes of teaching and learning’. FPE approaches highlighting how everyday geographies of menstruation/puberty are both productive of and reproduce gendered power relations and inequalities in access to social capital resources seem an appropriate tool for addressing this challenge.

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