Background: Keeping girls in school offers them protection against early marriage, teen pregnancy, and sexual harms, and enhances social and economic equity. Studies report menstruation exacerbates school-drop out and poor attendance, although evidence is sparse. This study qualitatively examines the menstrual experiences of young adolescent schoolgirls. Methods and Findings: The study was conducted in Siaya County in rural western Kenya. A sample of 120 girls aged 14–16 years took part in 11 focus group discussions, which were analysed thematically. The data gathered were supplemented by information from six FGDs with parents and community members. Emergent themes were: lack of preparation for menarche; maturation and sexual vulnerability; menstruation as an illness; secrecy, fear and shame of leaking; coping with inadequate alternatives; paying for pads with sex; and problems with menstrual hygiene. Girls were unprepared and demonstrated poor reproductive knowledge, but devised practical methods to cope with menstrual difficulties, often alone. Parental and school support of menstrual needs is limited, and information sparse or inaccurate. Girls’ physical changes prompt boys and adults to target and brand girls as ripe for sexual activity including coercion and marriage. Girls admitted ‘others’ rather than themselves were absent from school during menstruation, due to physical symptoms or inadequate sanitary protection. They described difficulties engaging in class, due to fear of smelling and leakage, and subsequent teasing. Sanitary pads were valued but resource and time constraints result in prolonged use causing chafing. Improvised alternatives, including rags and grass, were prone to leak, caused soreness, and were perceived as harmful. Girls reported ‘other girls’ but not themselves participated in transactional sex to buy pads, and received pads from boyfriends. Conclusions: In the absence of parental and school support, girls cope, sometimes alone, with menarche in practical and sometimes hazardous ways. Emotional and physical support mechanisms need to be included within a package of measures to enable adolescent girls to reach their potential.
PLOS ONE, 8 (11), e79132
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