Lesotho: Period poverty affecting girls in rural areas

Lesotho: Period poverty affecting girls in rural areas

Date: June 17, 2019
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Poverty cited major driver as most skip school while on monthly periods

Gerard Molupe

Maseru, 17 June: The government is grappling with a high rate of abseentism from girl children in the rural areas of the country while they are on menstrual periods.

This is primarily because these girls could not afford to buy the sanitary towels.

They are from economically challenged backgrounds.

 Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Training Dr Thabang Lebese says they do not have policy to cater for girls while they are on their menstrual periods because of strict budget.

He says they rely on corporate world to help them with the provision of sanitary towels to help the girl- child.

He says their statistics shows there is high level of abseentism in the rural areas of the country where girl children at the age of 11- 12 years old are still at primary schools.

The challenge continues unabated despite Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso’s call that the girls be assisted with the sanitary towels.

Queen ‘Masenate launched an ambitious project Hlokomela Banana to ensure that all girls in the country’s high and secondary schools get free sanitary towels.

The project was made possible by a South African based company called Lil-Lets South Africa.

And through Hlokomela Banana, the Queen appeals to companies and individuals to adopt schools with hundreds of thousands of girls to donate free sanitary towels.

This initiative started in 2016 and it is continuing to grow.

Now it is up to Basotho to make the dream a reality.

Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s Proportional Representation Member of Parliament (MP) Kose Makoa says the parliament should enact a law that makes it mandatory for government to provide sanitary wear to school girls in a move that could help curb absenteeism from school by girls.

Makoa urges the House to collectively support his motion.

Now, the proposed law is on the cards.

The high levels of poverty gripping Lesotho, forced many girls to skip classes when they are on their periods. Others make do with pieces of cloth.

Lawmakers from across the political divide decided to put an end to the problem by enacting for government to be duty bound to provide for the girls.

Makoa says very girl must access sanitary towels freely countrywide.

He says girls from poor families are facing serious problems because they do not have money to buy the pads.

He says it is because of this natural phenomenon that during their periods they choose to stay home and not go to school because they feel uncomfortable when they do not have the pads.

The MP says the result is that they fail in class and some of them resort to early marriages.

Makoa says he had heard that these girls often use unhygienic cloths, which put their health at risk.

He says if the Queen saw it is good to subsidise sanitary towels, then it means this is very important.

“When I was doing the research about the free sanitary towels, I found out that in 2015 Botswana passed this law in the parliament and the sanitary towels are free now,” he says.

He says in 2017 Kenya passed a similar law, followed by Zambia.

‘Mathabo Ralengau a parent from Likhoele community council says it is an undeniable fact that rife poverty in the Basotho families especially those in the rural and highlands of the country do not afford the sanitary towels.

She says being on menstrual periods is not comfortable at alone let alone when one does not have sanitary towels.

She says when one is on periods, one has to do all in her power to feel free.

“You would think people next to you could smell something bad from you,” Ralengau says.

She says the government should come in between and try to help girl children who do not afford to have sanitary towels while on their periods.

She says the corporate world is doing a lot of work to help the needy so that they should not feel neglected.

Another parent, ‘Malibuseng Nkhabu also from Likhoele community council says sometimes when one is in periods, one does not want to be in company of others.

She says one has to be alone and stay in isolation.

She shares the same sentiments with Ralengau that one does not feel comfortable at all.

Nkhabu is of the view that sanitary pads should be sold at the most affordable prices to everyone.

She says in some families in the rural areas where people do not have permanent jobs, such families could not even budget for the sanitary towels at all.

Unfortunately this affects the girl children education, she says.

Nkhabu says the corporate world should not act alone in this imbroglio but the government should also step up its game to help the destitute pupils.

Dr Lebese says the skipping of classes by the rural girls’ impacts badly on their studies.

Despite absence of resources in the rural schools, Dr Lebese says skipping of classes of girls while on periods also contributes significantly to their bad performance.

Traditionally, it is the onus of the mother to take care of the girl-child once she starts menstruating. It becomes difficult and more of a taboo when it comes to a male parent to single-handedly initiate a girl-child into menstrual hygiene.

One of them, Thabiso Toka says being a man he is unable to take care of is girl children while they are on periods. His wife is eking out a living in South Africa as a domestic worker and only comes home occasionally during long holidays such as Christmas.

He says it is their mothers who have to look after them because they know a lot about girls’ lives. So to him taking care for a girl is one the biggest challenge he could ever face.

Research shows that absence of appropriate sanitary materials to absorb menstrual flow does not only affect female’s reproductive health but their acquisition of education.

The government of Ghana is also proposing provision of free disposable sanitary pads to assist brilliant but poor school girls remain in school.

This article was written by Gerard Molupe. It is part of Gender Links #VoiceandChoice series. The story was first published in The Nation newspaper

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