Fight to end period poverty

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MORE than three million Zimbabwean girls have started their monthly menstruation cycle, thereby putting a huge demand on feminine products.

Sadly, statistics from a study by UNICEF indicate 76 percent of surveyed girls in rural and urban schools did not have access to basic information on menstrual cycle and tampons, pads or menstrual cups. Access to information on sexuality and sex education is one of the key tenets of the Sustainable Development Goals that speak on the promotion of sexual reproductive rights. 

Coupled with religious beliefs, traditional cultural practices have been identified as a major hindrance in ensuring young girls access education not only the menstrual cycle, but also sex. 

To add to their woes, some young women given the financial constraints have limited access to funds to purchase feminine products to use during the cycle. Media reports have indicated young women resort to using washable cloths and cow dung. Not only is the dire situation of the young women infringing on their right to sexual reproductive health, it also affects their education as some are forced to skip school when they are on their monthly period. 

Government through the Health Ministry and other departments has held awareness campaigns to educate girls on menstruation. 

The Zimbabwean 2013 Constitution (Section 76(1)) guarantees, “every Zimbabwean citizen and permanent resident the right to have basic access to healthcare services including reproductive healthcare services.”

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) which was held in Cairo, Egypt, (1994) is one of the pioneers of policies to address health issues. 

It brought another dimension to sexual and reproductive health by moving population policies and programmes away from a focus number to a focus on human rights. 

It emphasised the linkages between population and development and recognised that sexual and reproductive health rights are key to improving the quality of life for everyone.

In an effort to end period poverty in Zimbabwe, an organisation advocating the promotion and protection of rights of the girl child, Sanitary Aid Zimbabwe Trust, has put in place measures to assist the affected children.

Sanitary Aid Zimbabwe Trust founder and director Theresa Nyavi describes period poverty as the inability by girls and women to access: adequate menstrual products, a conducive environment, dignified treatment in order for them to manage their periods in a manner that fosters human and sustainable development.

This definition underscores the fact that period poverty is not just about lack of sanitary pads; it is about the lack of everything needed to manage periods.

“First and foremost, they need pairs of clean underwear,” said Nyavi. 

“The underwear is very important as it holds the pad and keeps it in position. 

“While this might sound basic, many homeless girls and women, rural girls do not have underwear.”

Nyavi said pain relievers were another requirement. 

“Some girls experience painful menstrual cramps and need pain relievers,” she said.

Water, Nyavi said, was another important requirement when menstruating. 

“Girls and women need to wash their hands before and after changing their sanitary towels,” she said. 

“Not doing so puts them at the risk of getting yeast infections, bacteria, Hepatitis B and other health risks. “They also need water to bath, wash their reusable pads or cloths or menstrual cups.”

Nyavi highlighted that women and girls also needed a conducive environment; that is, an environment that is free from bullying and period shaming. 

“It is important that schools offer specific lessons on menstrual hygiene management,” said Nyavi.

“Incorrectly disposed sanitary pads pollute the environment and cause blockages as well. 

“It is also important to note that a sanitary pad takes up to 800 years to decompose.”

Statistics indicate that in Zimbabwe 54 percent of girls had experienced mocking or stigmatisation, 26 percent reported isolation and 13 percent said boys call them names during menstruation.

As efforts continue to be made to end period poverty in Zimbabwe, a multi-sectoral approach is needed with all sectors supporting Government to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls.

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