Period poverty is rampant in Matabeleland rural areas. In Hwange, civic leaders say government initiatives are not benefiting girls equitably.
The dire economic situation of the country is forcing girls in Hwange rural to resort to unsafe materials for sanitary wear. From the age of 13 Doreen has dreaded her period, now 16, the struggle continues. Every mid-month she gets worried about what she is going to use for her monthly menstrual cycle. She has used up all the “unnecessary” pieces of cloth she comes across.
Most young girls who are in a similar predicament as Doreen are located in Chezya, Dete, Luseche, Nekabandama, Simangani, Dinde, Mizipah and Shangano villages in rural Hwange communities. Their situation is mainly driven by poverty which forces the youngsters to use unhygienic materials such as old clothes as sanitary wear.
According to Hwange Youth Empowerment Initiative (HYEI), an organization that advocates for youth empowerment, the high prices of the pads have led to unsafe use of materials for sanitary wear. The minimum price of a small pack of sanitary wear ranges from USD$1 to $ 1.50 in the local supermarket while the cost is higher in rural areas, ranging from USD$2.50 to $3.00.
“The hygienic pads have become inaccessible to the majority of young women and girls. Not only are these alternative materials excruciatingly uncomfortable, but they also put the girl child at direct risk of developing cervical cancer, vaginal infections and even infertility,” says Lethubuhle Ndlovu the Board Chairperson of HYEI.
“In our outreach programs we have learnt that some girls are even using cow dung, they remove the hard particles, wrap it in a cloth and use it as a sanitary pad,” she says.
About $600 million has so far been released by the government for the availability of sanitary wear to schools following the successful adoption of the Education Act (Chapter 25:04) which came into force on 6 March 2020, which approves and mandates the government to avail sanitary wear to girls of school-going age.
Sibusisiwe Mumba, the Secretary for Women Coalition of Zimbabwe Young Women’s Forum says the government’s provision is welcome, but there is a need for clarity and fairness when it comes to the distribution.
“Most rural young girls are in desperate need of proper sanitary wear. Some girls opt to miss school because of menstruation. She would rather stay home than walk several kilometres to school with uncomfortable sanitary wear,” says Mumba.
“The children deserve at least a packet of sanitary wear every month, that way we will also be combating cases of cervix cancer among the young rural girls.”
Edith January, the Programs Coordinator of Greenline Africa Trust an organization that works with vulnerable rural communities echoes similar sentiments saying the government interventions on women’s health is greatly appreciated but needs a different approach for the benefit of everyone.
“Allocating funds for sanitary wear is a good initiative, but as a developmental practitioner, sometimes these initiatives do not benefit the rightful people,” says January.
She says the government should reach out to the most remote parts of the country when it comes to distribution.
“There is a need to use the local leaders who will also be accountable. Schools should desist from corruption so that every child who needs the sanitary wear benefits from the initiative,” she adds.
Globally women and girls have developed different strategies to cope with menstruation. These vary greatly from available resources, economic status, local traditions and cultural beliefs and knowledge or education. Due to these restrictions women often manage menstruation with methods that can be unhygienic and inconvenient, particularly in poorer settings.
Health experts have discovered that the burden of Reproductive Tract Infections (RTI) is a major public health concern worldwide and RTI are particularly can be attributed to poor menstrual hygiene. Rural girls who cannot afford proper sanitary wear are mostly at risk.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin