Combating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Kenya the Polycom Girls Way

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a pressing global health crisis affecting millions of women and girls around the world. Shockingly, more than 730 million women have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lives. In Kenya, the issue is equally concerning, with the Demographic and Health Survey of 2022 revealing that 34 percent of women and girls surveyed reported experiencing physical violence, and 13 percent reported sexual violence. Disturbingly, many of these cases remain unreported, leaving survivors without justice.

The impact of SGBV especially in the urban informal settlements is both physical and mental, severely affecting survivors’ well-being. Unfortunately, access to quality mental health services is a significant challenge for these survivors. Tackling SGBV requires a collective effort from society, starting with educating children and teens about consent, establishing robust support systems for survivors, and promoting survivor empowerment. By instilling these values from an early age, we can create a culture of respect, understanding, and justice for all.

One crucial step the Polycom Girls has taken in addressing SGBV is educating children and teens about consent and respect. The prevalence of SGBV is alarming, with statistics showing that 40.7% of ever-partnered women in Kenya have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence. Even more concerning, the Violence Against Children Survey found that nearly two-thirds of women who experienced childhood sexual violence had multiple incidents before age 18.

To change this culture and prevent sexual assault, Polycom has endured to have open conversations about consent and boundaries for girls and women at a young age. Here are some essential tips for parents to guide these conversations:

Teach children the proper names of their body parts and explain which parts are private. Educate children that they have the right to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable. Discuss the concept of secrets and reassure children that they can always talk to you, even if someone tells them to keep a secret. Model appropriate behavior by demonstrating respect and kindness toward others. Create an environment where your child feels comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns. Empower children to understand that they have choices in how they react to situations.

Polycom emphasizes that these early conversations about consent don’t necessarily have to be about sex; they can focus on relationships, boundaries, and treating others with respect. Empowering children at a young age will set the foundation for understanding consent and respect as they grow into young adults.

Polycom cannot win this war alone. Efforts to combat SGBV in Kenya should include improving post-rape care, which is hindered by staff training and a lack of essential equipment. All stakeholders, including donors and other civil society organizations, need to support survivors’ groups and engage survivors in decision-making processes to enhance mental health services for survivors.


Kenya scores average on United Nations Sustainable Goals on gender

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Polycom’s Mentors Changing Kibera through Menstrual Hygiene Education

Walking into Polycom’s offices is like stepping into a gallery of vibrant and colorful artistry. Venture further into the workspace, and you’ll encounter a group of elegantly branded young men and women, affectionately known as mentors, as they gear up for their school visits. These mentors have embraced the mantle of change, dedicating themselves to educating young minds like their own on dismantling the walls of period shame. Amidst the narrow alleyways of the urban informal settlements, the Polycom Girls, through its mentors, emerges as a beacon of progress and transformation. Armed with a profound grasp of the impact of menstrual hygiene on their community, Polycom has embarked on a crucial mission of eradicating period shaming through education and empowerment.

At the heart of their mission, Polycom’s mentors work tirelessly to educate girls and young women about the essential practices and measures for maintaining cleanliness, comfort, and health during menstruation. They recognize that proper menstrual hygiene transcends physical well-beings about enabling menstruating women and girls to embrace their daily lives without disruptions or shame.

Operating within 50 schools, the Polycom team ensures the effective transmission of proper menstrual hygiene practices. They stress the importance of correct sanitary pad usage for managing menstrual flow, allowing girls to confidently stay in school without hindrance. Beyond this, the girls receive education on the significance of regular pad changes to prevent discomfort and leakage. Equally critical is the responsible disposal of used products to safeguard the environment and prevent infections.

Furthermore, the mentors instill the value of personal hygiene, underscoring the importance of handwashing before and after changing products and advocating for cleanliness through regular showers. Recognizing the pivotal role of access to clean sanitation facilities, Polycom goes the extra mile by supplying soap to schools, cultivating an environment where proper hygiene thrives.

Polycom also addresses the often-overlooked aspect of inner clothing. They empower girls with the knowledge to choose comfortable and appropriate attire during their periods to avert staining and discomfort. Nevertheless, a challenge persists; the scarcity of sufficient underwear for girls to wear throughout their menstrual cycles. Many of these young women make do with a mere two pairs of underwear for their entire cycle.

Yet, Polycom’s impact extends beyond education. In this journey of learning and unlearning, girls are emboldened to challenge cultural norms and societal beliefs that breed stigma and shame around menstruation. The organization recognizes the significance of collaboration, stepping in to support those in need. Through partnerships with health centers within the urban informal settlements, Polycom addresses issues of severe pain, heavy bleeding, or unusual symptoms during menstruation, ensuring that those requiring medical attention receive it.

The essence of Polycom’s mission lies in understanding that menstrual hygiene encompasses more than just physical health, it’s a pivotal stride towards achieving gender equality. By dismantling the barriers obstructing education, work, and daily activities, Polycom cultivates a world where women and girls thrive devoid of fear or shame.

Polycom’s inspiring journey and the lives they touch is a wake-up call to all of us to embrace our unique roles to address menstrual hygiene and other pertinent issues as a declaration of empowerment and a catalyst for transformation. Together, we can tear down the walls of period shaming and other barriers to development and construct a society where every woman stands tall, embracing her womanhood with dignity and pride.


Polycom Rescues Girls Caught Between Period Shame and Economic Scarcity 

Kibera, Africa’s sprawling home of dreams and hardships, an unyielding spirit of resilience blooms amidst the corrugated iron sheets that shield dreams from the harsh realities outside. This vibrant slum, the largest in Africa, is home to a life that weaves together the hopes and struggles of hundreds of thousands. Among the countless threads of existence that intersect here, the stories of women stand out, both in their quiet battles and in the blossoming courage they display.

Within these homes, where bed sheets double as walls, an unspoken challenge unites women. A challenge faced not just by them, but by their daughters too. In the embrace of these iron-sheeted homes, women hold the secrets of survival. Odd jobs offer little more than a meager wage, a hundred and fifty Kenyan shillings, just enough to put food and water in their bellies. There is never space for the luxury of sanitary towels in these equations of survival, and so, a delicate dance of adaptation unfolds.

Mothers, steadfast in love, resort to using rags and cotton to protect their dignity and that of their daughters. But in the darkest corners, desperation forces some into unimaginable choices, where dignity is sacrificed for the promise of a few coins. As the moon takes its course through the sky, teenage girls face a different kind of confinement. The shame society bestows upon menstruation holds them hostage in the dimness of their homes. School, a sanctuary of learning, turns into an arena of embarrassment, leading them to trade education for secrecy.

Yet, even in the shadows of this struggle, a glimmer of hope arises. The government’s initiative to provide sanitary towels to schoolgirls acknowledges the need for change, but an unforeseen dilemma presents itself. Low-quality pads are currently finding their way to schools, causing discomfort and infections. The very solution that was meant to lift the veil of shame becomes a source of it. Girls become pawns in a larger narrative, bearing the burden of a flawed Kenyan political system.

Polycom Girls, nestled within the heart of Kibera, observes a pattern that tugs at their hearts. The silence of missing school days speaks volumes, and through earnest inquiry, the truth is unveiled. Girls are caught in the web of period shame and economic scarcity, robbed of their right to education. With a steadfast spirit, Polycom chose to step in, choosing action over apathy.

Initially, they act as providers, purchasing pads for these brave young souls. But the need is vast, and so they evolve, becoming creators in their own right. Kibera Pads CO was born, an endeavor that employs the hands and hearts of survivors. Eight women and two men, survivors of gender-based violence, find solace within these walls. Here, they stitch together more than mere pads; they weave threads of empowerment and renewal, creating a beautiful, cotton wingless pad.

Every month, more than 2,000 pads are brought into existence, the tangible embodiment of care and consideration. Within the gentle folds of these pads lies more than just absorbent material; they are a symbol of courage, a reminder that no one should be held captive by their biology. Kibera Pads CO provides not only an income but a haven for those who seek to heal from past wounds.

And so, the once-silenced footfalls of girls now echo with purpose. Their heads held high, they stride towards Polycom, each a testament to resilience. Within the small purple packages containing 10 pieces, they receive the power to transform their lives. No longer imprisoned by shame, they march back to school, their education no longer a casualty of silence.

As the days unfurl, so do the stories of triumph. Academic strides replace absent marks on attendance sheets. Dreams of a brighter future gain momentum, turning into tangible realities. Some graduate and return as champions of their own stories, through Polycom’s guidance. These girls become beacons of inspiration even for their parents, their stories painting a brighter, more hopeful future for Kibera and an example for a country to learn from.


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Meet our Young Girl Advocate

Nancy Baraza walked into Polycom offices two years ago with a heart to mentor young girls. Her young frame betrayed the potential and energy