By Success Majaramhepo
While many are looking at the rising cost of commodities on the supermarket shelves and the declining purchasing power of their earnings, very few have stopped to ponder about the challenges being faced by girls and women due to shortages of sanitary wear.
With the socio-economic situation taking a toll on Zimbabweans, for many girls the situation is dire as they cannot afford to buy sanitary pads during their monthly period.
An Epworth resident, Catherine Chisese (16) told Zimsentinel that she relies on unhygienic material to try to stem the bleeding. This forces her to skip school lessons, lest she exposes herself to ridicule from friends.
“The situation is unbearable, I cannot afford to buy sanitary pads and I sometimes skip lessons for fear of being mocked by friends. I make use of worn out clothes as well as leaves and newspapers to contain the flow” she said.
“For sure, the economic hardship is affecting us as students. For most girls, the menstruation period per month is four to five days. Without proper sanitary wear, girls are forced to skip school until their period is over. At the moment, one pack is going for $5 or more, meaning that someone who has a heavy flow will need more than $10,” she said
Another resident, Patience Chinoriwa said lack of access to menstrual pads was exposing women to various genital infections, as they are opting to use unhygienic methods such as tissues, rags, and newspapers.
“The use of indigenous unsafe sanitary pads such as cow dung, leaves and pages from exercise books has a great impact on women’s gynecological health. In some cases, girls have reported genital tract infections,” she said.
She said there was a need to demystify menstruation. “Girls at a tender age are taught not to talk about menstruation. This has limited girls and women from engaging with the right authorities to appeal for free sanitary pads. Some girls raised by fathers alone shy away from seeking assistance and they end up using unhygienic methods,” she said
She also added that the situation was now desperate, forcing tough decisions on anyone poor who menstruates.
“Because they want to have sanitary wear, some girls are forced to engage in sex work to have something to buy sanitary wear. It is so sad that they end up being infected by STIs at a tender age,” she added.
Cognisant of this dire situation afflicting women, activists are now calling for the government to increase the accessibility of sanitary pads to women and girls in order to improve their health.
A member of Girls Challenge Education, Tariro Nyakatawa said the government must provide pads for free like what Kenya and Mozambique do.
“Sanitary wear should be made readily available free of charge just like condoms and tissues. The government should pay for sanitary wear and should take the dignity of women and girls seriously like other countries are doing.
“Since 2011, the Kenyan government has been setting aside funds to buy and distribute the commodity to girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the 2017-2018 financial year, $5m has been budgeted for that purpose, up from $4m in the current year ending this month,” she said
Most sanitary pads in Zimbabwe are imported from neighbouring South Africa. Companies that used to manufacture sanitary pads have since ceased operations, owing to foreign currency shortages. So, more innovative methods to improve women and girls’ menstrual hygiene and health have to be found to help women and girls in Zimbabwe.