Femme International, a small NGO that began working in Kenya less than two years ago, is one of few international organizations that focuses primarily on menstrual health and hygiene education for young women. Starting out with workshops in the Mathare Slum in Nairobi, Kenya, Femme introduced their Feminine Health Management programs, in which young women were introduced to Femme Kits containing products such as menstrual cups to help sustainably manage their periods each month. After successful pilot programs, Femme headed back into the field to see how else they could expand their projects and continue teaching about positive sexual health and hygiene practices.
Just this year, after receiving feedback from partner schools asking for workshops geared towards young men, Femme conducted a needs assessment to see what specific topics needed to be addressed.
“Femme has been thinking about including a program for boys since we began,” explained Sabrina Rubli, Femme’s founder and executive director, in an email to Innovate Development. “One of Femme’s larger goals is to break down the stigma surrounding menstruation, and I think it is essential to include men and boys in that conversation. Gender equality is as much about men as it is about women, and focusing only on the girls will not achieve the same type of success that we are looking for.”
The Boys Health Education (BHE) program was designed to include important topics including sexually transmitted infections, proper male hygiene practices, male anatomy, and the importance of consent and building healthy, respectful relationships. The workshops also touch on some topics of female health so that male counterparts properly understand menstruation, and are therefore less inclined to continue ridiculing girls while on their periods.
“We believe that by teaching boys about how a woman’s body works, the boys will no longer tease and torment the girls during their periods, thus building a positive and effective learning environment for all,” said Rubli. “The BHE program will provide schoolboys with essential reproductive and sexual health education, with a strong emphasis on the larger issues of gender equality and consent.”
The first pilot workshop has been taking place this fall at the Kahe Secondary School in the Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania, and will be brought to partner schools in Kenya in 2015. They target boys between the ages of 13 and 19. The workshops have allowed for the creation of a safe environment where participants are welcomed and encouraged to ask questions — including those often deemed embarrassing — pertaining to sexual health.
The lessons, which are carried out in Swahili, were extremely well-received by the participants, their parents, and their school’s community. After completing the workshops, each participant was given a workbook, also in Swahili, to take home with them, as well as a health kit. The health kits included soap, a towel, razor, and plastic cup. These items allow the boys to properly carry out the hygiene practices that they were taught during the workshops.
In the coming year, the project will be expanded and run at schools where Femme’s Female Health Education program is carried out. The two programs, Rubli explained, have been designed to complement each other and create a positive environment for all.
“Gender equality is as much about men as it is about women, and focusing only on the girls will not achieve the same type of success that we are looking for,” she continued.