Host: IThemba for Girls Trust
Date: 18 August 2020
Panelists: Shamwari Yemwanasikana, Sanitary Aid Zimbabwe Trust, Empower Her & The Girls Table.
Topic: “Period Poverty” and the Advancement of Girls’ Education
Definition of “Period Poverty”
“Period Poverty” is defined as the challenges women and girls face in managing their monthly menstruation in a healthy and hygienic manner. When women and girls fail to access or to buy Sanitary Products they are experiencing basic “Period Poverty”. The wider meaning of “Period Poverty” would include, women and girls failing to access water and sanitation such as private, feminine and friendly environments like toilets with lockable doors where they can change their pads in a private and dignified way, have bins to dispose of the used pads, running water basins where they can wash their hands after changing pads and even failure to access pain relief tablets for period pain explains different forms of “Period Poverty” women/girls experience every month during their cycle.
“Period Poverty” Situation in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe as a country is experiencing an economic crisis with high inflation leading to a high cost of living, high unemployment, and increased household poverty, a situation that has been worsened by the COVID-19 Lockdown. As families struggle to put food on the table, “Period Poverty” increases for women/girls as the little money families have will go to purchasing food and not Sanitary Pads. That leaves women/girls to use whatever method necessary to contain their menstrual flow and some of those methods are unhygienic that could possibly give them infections that might threaten their long-term health. It is also feared that COVID-19 has seen a rise in prostitution in some parts of Harare and Zvishavane as young girl/women are forced to sell their bodies to raise money for food and even for Sanitary Pads, a situation that usually leads to early marriages, unwanted pregnancies, drop out of school, risks in contracting HIV and STIs or even contracting COVID-19 as they are forced to breach lockdown regulations due to poverty.
Is the topic of menstruation openly discussed?
In African culture menstruation is not a topic that is openly discussed. Young girls are raised to believe that no man including their father and brothers should know that they are menstruating. As such buying of Sanitary Products is not part of the family’s budget and it is not made a priority. Whilst UNFPA and clinics disseminate information even in schools regarding reproductive health not much information reaches the remote rural areas. Menstrual hygiene rights are human rights and should be treated as such. Menstrual hygiene rights are connected to the right to non-discrimination, to health and healthy environment, education and work. These rights need to be spoken about and to reach every corner of the country.
What is the impact of “Period Poverty” on the Education of Girls?
Menstruation is regarded a shameful experience as such it puts a lot of pressure on girls as they struggle to manage their monthly menstruation. Girls experience lack of appropriate Sanitary Products and conducive environments where they can manage their period in a dignified manner. To avoid the embarrassment, some girls skip school on the days of their menstruation, which is an average of 4 days per month and eventually it adds up to over 40 learning days a year, which means a lot of valuable learning is lost and can never be recovered, leading to poor performance by some girls. Some girls eventually drop out of school as the challenges of going to school and managing their menstruation become too much for them. Poor sanitation and use of rags as sanitary pads leads to low self-esteem and confidence as girls are always anxious about spoiling their uniforms and being shamed by other students. This leads to poor participation in class and eventually poor academic achievement.
Ways to end “Period Poverty”
Open Dialogue with Men
Due to the patriarchal nature of the society, the war on “Period Poverty” cannot be won without the support and involvement of men. We need to engage men fully so that they are knowledgeable and understand the importance of menstruation and the role they need to play and the support they need to offer to make it a comfortable experience for women/girls.
We need a unity of organizations and a collective approach with amplified voices about menstruation with all stakeholders like the Ministries of Health, Education and Youth for them to come up with policies that promote and enhance a hygienic menstruation process in a holistic sense. It is also the responsibility of the government to make sure that affordable sanitary products are accessible to all even in the marginalized areas through subsidizing the price of sanitary pads or even making them free especially for school going girls. It is also the responsibility of the government to make sure that women/girls access safe sanitation that promotes hygienic experiences during their menstruation.
Early Education about Menstruation
Education about menstruation should be introduced at an early age in schools and discussion on such encouraged in the homes and churches so that unprogressive norms regarding menstruation are challenged and the appropriate information passed down to these children. Just as the use of condoms is freely discussed, menstruation should be too, as it is an important biological process and not a choice. It is only through a holistic and multi-sectoral approach that applies gender equality, education, human rights, and sustainability perspectives that we can empower women/girls to take control of their bodies and, ultimately, their lives.
Source: IThemba for Girls Trust