This month we are spotlighting the remarkable advocacy work of James Atito alias The Period Man from Stretchers Youth Organization, a member organization of our Mombasa Working group. This is part of the #YouthAlivePersonsofTheMonth series aimed at highlighting young leaders from our youth networks who are transforming their communities.
Here is the interview we held with him. Read and get inspired!
“Who is James Atito?”
“James is the co-founder and the current Finance and Administration Manager at Stretchers Youth Organization in Mombasa county, as well as Director at The Advanced Developers Entrepreneur Services.
With over 10 years of experience in peer engagement, counselling, reproductive health advocacy, and life skills training, he is the DSW Kenya global menstrual hygiene male champion. He has a background in accounting & finance management and psychological counselling. His passion to end period stigma and poverty among adolescent girls and young women has enabled him to diversify his career. Beyond financial management, he is also a strong and vocal reproductive health trainerprenuer and advocate by the brand name: The Period Man.
“Who is the period man? How did Period man come about?”
“In November 2019, I was assigned by Red Cross Kenya to train youths on life skills and sexual reproductive health rights in Kakuma, Turkana County.
A day before the training as we were strolling in the village late in the evening around 7 pm, we came across a group of 7 girls seated by the roadside—in roadside gullies called “LAGAS”.
It was drizzling. I was astounded. I asked one of the ladies we were talking with—a native—about it.
‘Why are those girls seated there now at this time?’
‘Those girls are having periods and it is a taboo for them to stay in their homes especially if those homes have elderly men. So they sit in the lagas until they finish their menses. Some of them are raped, attacked by wild animals and even suffer infections since they sit on soil due to lack of proper menstrual products.’
She responded. I was perturbed.
The following day I was sensitizing participants on how to use a menstrual cup—one of the reusable menstrual products—when one girl rudely interrupted.
‘Excuse me! you are a man, why do you talk about periods, kwani wewe ni period man?’
Upon returning to Mombasa, I kept pondering about the two incidences and more broadly about period stigma in Turkana. I developed a strong conviction to shift the narrative about periods and end the humiliation girls and women faced and still face.
I thought of a title that I could use to break the silence on periods and the statement from the lady in my session ran through my mind, “Kwani wewe ni period man?” It was then that I decided to call myself The Period Man. I posted about it on my Facebook page on 11th December 2019.
The following day at an event I had been I was invited by Red cross to talk about periods and this how I introduced myself.
“My name is James Atito and you can call me The Period Man”.
The name has since gone viral. I copy-righted the brand in 2020 under the Kenya Copyright board as a menstrual health advocacy brand. The Period man is now a menstrual health advocacy brand in Kenya.”
“When and why did you start talking about periods?”
“My interest in talking about periods was sparked in 2016 when one of our partners DSW Kenya organization introduced menstrual cups. This was part of a pilot project that targeted 50 girls in Mombasa county.
One of the beneficiaries was my younger sister. I got curious to know what a menstrual cup was and how I could support my sister. It was then that I started doing research on Google about periods.
I was compelled further to talk about periods because most people were not talking about them. When the organization was looking for male champions to help break the stigma about the cups in Muslim communities, I volunteered to share my research findings and then my journey for menstrual health advocacy began.
But it is my encounters in Turkana in 2019 that really crystallized my mission of talking about periods.”
“What challenges have you faced in this work?”
“Whenever I conduct my sessions, my audience expects me to distribute sanitary pads which are relatively expensive. With no funding, it is difficult to get these products for distribution.
Some people who don’t yet understand the challenges women face before, during, and after periods often insult me saying I am irrelevant to the topic. Sadly, these include some women.
However, since the vision for The Period Man is to have “Nations free from Period Stigma” such a statement helps me to rediscover strategies to break the silence on periods.”
“What successes have you had/proudest moments?”
“I have had the privilege of getting on different platforms including media stations to share my experiences. I discussed periods at the Europe-EU parliament in 2018. I was a speaker at the 2019 AHAIC conference in Kigali and ICPD25 summit in Nairobi 2019. I organized and hosted the first Men4Periods hybrid conference in 2020. I contributed to the distribution of over 3 million menstrual cups across East Africa. Those are some of the key highlights that I am proud of.”
“Men lose absolutely nothing when they support female-related agenda, and as a matter of fact, periods are not a female-only conversation. The success of achieving sustainable development goals depends heavily on how we solve periods-related challenges.”