International Day of the Girl Child

IThemba for Girls Trust joins the world in commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child with this year’s theme, “My Voice, Our Equal Future”. The sad part is that girls are faced with many challenges that make it difficult to achieve ‘equal future” with others, the major one being “period poverty”.

Menstruation is a biological process for all girls. They need products that will absorb the flow of blood during their menstruation. Access to sanitary pads should be a right for all girls. In this case, sanitary products are not a luxury but are practically essentials for all girls to experience their menstruation in a healthy and dignified manner. Menstrual Health Management (MHM) becomes an essential aspect of feminine hygiene for girls as they go through their menstruation every month. Therefore, it is imperative that every girl is able to access feminine hygiene products, is also afforded a dignified private place where she can change her sanitary pads including a hygienic place where she can dispose of the sanitary waste, and running water to wash their hands. But, unfortunately, many girls are experiencing “period poverty” globally and in Zimbabwe specifically. “Period Poverty” is defined as the challenges girls face in managing their monthly menstruation in a healthy, hygienic, and dignified manner. If menstruation is not handled in a healthy manner, it exposes girls’ health, education, and their general wellbeing in danger.

Zimbabwe is faced with an economic crisis. High inflation is 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” has increased for girls as the little money families have is prioritized to purchasing food and not sanitary pads. This leaves girls struggling with no sanitary pads and general feminine hygiene products and are therefore forced to use whatever methods necessary to contain their menstrual flow and some of those methods are grossly unhygienic and could possibly compromise their health in the long-term.

“Period Poverty” also compromises the advancement of the education of girls. Girls are struggling during their menstrual cycles without appropriate sanitary products and conducive environments where they can manage their period in a dignified manner within their schools. To avoid 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. This means a lot of valuable learning time 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 becomes too much to bear. Poor sanitation and use of rags, amongst other things, as sanitary pads leads to low self-esteem and low confidence as girls are always anxious about spoiling their uniforms and being “shamed” by other students. Collectively this points to poor participation in class and ultimately poor academic performance.

The Zimbabwean Government has made a commitment on the Education Amendment Act, Section 3, “to ensure the provision of sanitary wear and other menstrual health facilities to girls in all schools to promote menstrual health” and has set aside of $200 million on the National Budget of 2019 for sanitary wear in rural schools. Whilst the Education Amendment Act is a great move towards elimination of “Period Poverty”, it has not been complimented by practical efforts on the ground. Nothing has been said so far about how the $200 million is going to be disbursed and yet girls need this assistance every day and every month, especially now as they are writing their examinations. It is also not clear whether the $200 million is enough to cover all schools in need. Is this amount going to be a recurring feature every year? Those questions remain unanswered. We need the government to show commitment by further introducing an effective disbursement policy of sanitary wear to all schools in need. Right now that has not happened. We need FREE SANITARY PADS IN SCHOOLS as soon as possible. That is the only way that will end “period poverty” for girls in schools and that’s the only sustainable way going forward to ensure we support and protect girls and their education in order to achieve SDG 4 of equitable and quality education for both girls and boys. Menstrual Health Management in schools for girls is the key to achieving SDG 4. Such are the practical steps that could lead to “… Our Equal Future” being achieved.

Such a call is in line with what other countries are already doing. Scotland is already providing free sanitary products to students in all institutions of learning whilst New Zealand has undertaken to do the same. In Africa, the Kenyan and Botswana government have taken the lead in addressing “period poverty” by providing free sanitary pads to girls in schools. South Africa is working to follow suit. We are appealing to our Zimbabwean government to join these progressive countries and be remembered amongst the first to have taken MHM and the advancement of the girls’ education seriously by providing free sanitary pads in schools.

Source: IThemba for Girls Trust

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