By Elia Ntali
Catherine 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.
Living in rural Zimbabwe further complicates things as her parents are struggling to put food on the table. She is not alone in this situation as many including women resort to worn out clothes, newspapers and leaves.
“Most young girls and women in this community are faced with the same situation, we use rags during our monthly cycle as we cannot afford to buy sanitary pads because they are expensive to buy” said 39 year old Susan Marufu
A teacher, Theresa Ndanga says they have been assisting girls in accessing sanitary ware, this after one of the girls had used leaves which affected her health.
“As female teachers we interact with girls on sexual health, so in one of these discussions we had a girl whose menstrual health was affected after she used leaves which caused some pain during her monthly periods. With the assistance of the school we managed to help her and the programme has helped many girls who cannot afford to buy pads” said Ndanga
She adds “We feel that without the programme most of the girls could have been forced into prostitution or early marriage as a desperate measure. We have also received pads from a Harare based non-governmental organisation”
This transition into womanhood is not easy as many are afraid to ask for money from their parents or guardians. The standard price for a pack of sanitary pads costs $5 and this is beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans.
The secrecy around the natural biological process has seen some girl child organisations coming up with innovative measures to improve the situation.
Florence Madhuku, Assistant Commissioner at the Girl Guides Association of Zimbabwe says rural folks were the most affected.
“For sure the economic hardship is affecting us as women especially those in rural areas. At the moment one pack is going for $5 or more, meaning that someone who has a heavy flow will need more than $10.
“As a way of trying to ease this problem we are encouraging young girls and women to make use of reusable pads. These are made from towel as well as cotton material. They last for a period of about 6 months to a year. These have proved to be a better option especially during this difficult time. Great hygiene is however needed when using these reusable pads” said Madhuku
She said the innovative project has been well accepted and they aim to groom young girls and women to realise their potential.
“So far the pads have been well taken and our aim as the girl guides is to groom the young girls and women to bring out their full potential and be responsible citizens. So we teach them the spirit of giving service either to their families or community and the nation” she said
As a way of fulfilling the spirit of giving Madhuku says they have been giving sanitary pads for free as well as empowering women with knowledge.
“As a way of giving service to our nation we have not been selling the pads but just helping young women and girls out there as well as helping them to make pads for themselves. We are also thinking of expanding our horizon in the future. The programme will be done by young female adults aged between 18-30 years” said Madhuku
Natsai Mukarakate (16) and Jessica Mushandike (17) beneficiaries of the programme said they are happy to have accessed reusable pads.
“The fact that they are reusable makes me happy because the burden of begging money from parents or relatives is over. At the same time they are easy to use and also washable” said Mukarakate.
“I am happy to be part of this programme and I feel relieved given the burden that comes with looking for money to buy pads in these economic hardships. We are not only happy about the pads but the training we are getting to make pads for ourselves,” Mushandike noted
Other women have also benefitted from the programme and have praised the use of reusable pads and have recommended them.
“This noble idea comes as a huge relief to us, instead of forking out money we now make pads for ourselves, and not only on our part even our daughters. It was a burden in these harsh economic times,” says 40 year old Trish Maramba
Reusable pads have transformed the Sexual Reproductive Health of the underprivileged rural girls and women as they no longer make use of the unhygienic leaves and rags which were a threat to menstrual health.
The recent scrapping of import duty on sanitary ware by the Minister of Finance, Mthuli Ncube may be a noble move that will assist in improving women’s menstrual hygiene and health by still remains a challenge.
“While we applaud the recent budget by the Minister of Finance on the scrapping of duty on sanitary ware we feel that it is not enough as prices continue to hinder the rural folk from accessing favourable sanitary pads” said Colleen Kasiyandima, who works as a nurse.
A 2015 survey by the Ministry of Women and Youth Affairs, indicates that 20 percent of girls miss school due to period pain while 67 percent miss school due to lack of pads and 26 percent stay home because of heavy flows during menstruation.
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 will go a long way for the women of Zimbabwe.
Elia Ntali is a journalist from Zimbabwe. This article is part of the Gender Links 16 Days News Service #Voiceand ChoiceCampaign Photo