Period Poverty a daily struggle for women and girls in Zimbabwe

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…as girls opt for unhygienic measures

Partinella Ngozo

Period poverty is continuing to be a major challenge in Zimbabwe with school-going girls being forced to miss school every month due to a lack of sanitary wear, the Community Voices Zimbabwe revealed in its recent interviews with villagers in Gokwe.

The issue of poverty in Zimbabwe stretches beyond just the lack of food and water, with period poverty becoming one of the major obstacles Zimbabwean women face. An estimation of above 3million girls in Zimbabwe menstruate, which clearly means that there is high demand for feminine products. Feminists have for a long time campaigned for access to free sanitary wear from the government, but their plea has fallen on deaf ears. Those who are most likely to experience period poverty in Zimbabwe are underprivileged girls whose parents or guardians cannot afford to buy sanitary wear. The rural girls have not been spared either, with information gathered by the Community Voices Zimbabwe showing that some girls in the rural areas of Gokwe are using unhygienic tree leaves, form rubbers, and even torn clothes. This demoralises the girl child because in addition to their health being affected the level of their confidence and dignity in the society diminishes as well.

The girl child in Zimbabwe is at risk of developing infections and suffering the embarrassment of leakages and discomfort. The increase in the price of basic commodities in recent months has also seen sanitary products being overpriced, this is a difficult situation for families that cannot afford it because they have to use the little money they have to buy food instead of feminine products. This has led to an increase in period poverty in the country. In some situations, some girls are forced to stay at home during their period days while others are at school because they feel embarrassed to go to school without sanitary wear.

According to a study done by SNV Zimbabwe, 72% of menstruating school girls do not use sanitary pads because they do not afford them. The study also established that 62% of schoolgirls in Zimbabwe miss school every month due to a lack of sanitary wear, depriving them of their right to equal education. Some 45% of girls in Zimbabwe reported using old clothes and rags, 29% cotton wool, and 3% newspaper and leaves, according to SNV Zimbabwe.

For Tadiwa (not her real name), a 15-year-old girl from Nemangwe Village in Gokwe, who spoke with the Community voices in Zimbabwe, she revealed that the situation is unbearable because she struggles every month and is forced to use clothes as pads since her parents cannot afford them.

“I started having my menses when I was in grade 7 and I usually do not go to school since my mother cannot afford to buy my pads. I usually use my torn clothes as pads. I feel embarrassed to go to school during my period because the other girls will be wearing pads while I have to use torn clothes, so I prefer to miss school during my period days. But, I will make sure I recover from my school work and try to catch the others. We survive through farming, and this time around we did not yield much from our harvest so we could not afford to sell. The few that we got we are using to survive until we reach another harvest. I cannot strain my mother because I know she cannot afford it. Things have been tough ever since my father died,” she said.

Another girl from Kwekwe’s Mbizo area who pleaded for anonymity said the difficult part of her life is during her period time because she cannot afford to buy feminine products.

“To describe what I go through during that period, is unimaginable, probably the worst days of my life. The fact that I am experiencing double pain, is devastating believe me, it is really tough. I cannot afford to purchase the feminine products and that hurts, the period pain itself is even more painful. My mother passed on a while ago, and if I tell my father he just nodes negatively and that is it, and I have to figure out the rest on my own. This other time I asked my boyfriend for some cash to buy the feminine products and he advised me to ask my father. I do not think our fathers and our boyfriends really know the pain that we go through in this phase because if they knew, they would really support us. And probably if we can have female leaders in all political positions maybe then, we will get free sanitary wear,” she said.

World Menstrual Hygiene Management Day (MHM) is commemorated each year on May 28. As we commemorate this day, it should be an opportunity for us as a country to reflect on the challenge of period poverty, everyone from all sectors of the society should play a role in ensuring that everyone is committed to harnessing the collective efforts and addressing the challenges faced by women and girls in managing their menstruation with dignity.

The MHM theme for this year, ‘Step Up Action and Investment in Menstrual Hygiene Now’ resonates well with the current situation at the moment, it shows us that there is a gap in the rhetoric on MHM and there is a need for a collective effort from everyone including men. There is also a need to channel resources towards this important issue and bring about the desired changes and provide appropriate sanitary materials, hygiene education and to empower millions of women and girls in Zimbabwe who continue to be affected by period poverty.

Speaking in an interview with this publication Young Women’s Forum Chairperson for Kwekwe Chapter Roseline Chiutsi, who is also the former Kwekwe junior councilor said that there is an urgent need for the government to reduce the prices of feminine products and also distribute free sanitary wear in schools.

“Due to financial constraints, most girls are dropping out of school and this is affecting the progress of most girls since some do not even afford painkillers to relieve themselves from period cramps, and most parents do not even understand their girls,” she said.

Chiutsi also said there is a need for government to consider girls and women with disabilities because of the water crisis, they are suffering during periods as they need water to use. Therefore there is a need for councils to constantly supply water so that women receive proper hygiene.

“Lack of adequate water is affecting women especially those with disabilities who have to go long distances to fetch water. We need proper water facilities so that we have proper hygiene as women during our menses,” she said.

According to a statement from Plan International Zimbabwe adequate spaces for conversations around periods coupled with unreliable and inconsistent access to clean water continues to contribute to period poverty, investing in that is a pre-conversations around periods.

“In order for us to make menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030, it is key that we all talk about Peter van Dommelen, the Country Director for Plan Zimbabwe says it is critical to normalize learning about misconceptions, taboos and the effect menstruation has on girls and young women all around the world including here in Zimbabwe. With us all talking openly about menstruation. For girls and young women, the stigma around periods can lead to shame, and embarrassment, we will help girls and young women overcome the challenges they face when they are in menstruation. All of us should be involved and find appropriate spaces where we can listen and requisite for dignified menstrual health and hygiene management their periods,” reads the statement.

There is a need for a conducive environment for young girls and women where period stigmatization is low to nonexistent, this gives girls a better chance to be confident and driven to do great in life.

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