Water woes impact menstrual and maternal health

Water woes impact menstrual and maternal health

Date: May 27, 2020
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By Thandeka Ndlovu,

Bulawayo, 4 May:  Residents will now go for more than 120 hours without running water- a decision likely to torment women who need the precious liquid to survive during their menstrual period and of course child birth.

The Bulawayo City Council announced that, residents will have to cope with only having water twice a week due to critical supply dam levels.

This predicament coupled with the  ongoing lockdown leaves women with no choice but rely on a handful of communal boreholes as they cannot be seen walking to nearest suburbs  in search of water.

“We live in Cowdray Park and we have been facing water problems way before this lockdown. The introduction of a 120 hour water shedding programme just means other residents will get to experience our usual routines though we all agree that this is beyond normal,” says Angela Bhebhe.

“We never have enough water to bathe especially during menstruation where more is needed for hygiene purposes. At this point pads are not a worry as we have devised alternatives but we really need to have water at least to bath once a day so that we keep sane,” she says.

“We are sometimes forced to queue for more than 12 hours just to fill in a 20L bucket and now with the water shedding schedule, the situation will worsen since everyone will be rushing that one borehole meant to be shared by the whole community.”

Bhebhe  says that the amount of time spent searching for water is too much hence policy makers should rethink their intervention strategies especially during the lockdown which may be extended since new cases are still being reported.

According to Lindele Ndebele a menstrual hygiene manager and gender activist, the water crisis is going add onto the burdens that  women are already struggling with in the face of Corona Virus.

“The issue of access to anything during a crisis is always a  burden for women and it goes beyond pads and water as it also includes food and other resources. Women, as care givers in most households should ensure there is water which increases their risk to contracting COVId-19 as they are forced to go out and look for alternative sources of water like boreholes,” says Ndebele.

“People are not likely to adhere to  the principles of one meter part in their search for water as there is a rush. These boreholes are very heavy and  women need to assist each other with no sanitisers to use afterwards. Policy makers  should  have incorporated crisis management in their town planning so that women do not rely on boreholes which come with a lot of risks.”

Ndebele says the  demand for water at household level is very high at this  moment because every one is at home and women with disabilities are bearing the greatest burden.

“Besides water which is  supposed to be a basic human right, sanitary wear was a huge problem in Zimbabwe before the lockdown. The situation is dire now because a majority of women who lived off vending are home with no means to buy food and even pads which are now a luxury for many women an girls,” she says.

According to Ndebele the fact that pads are imported from other countries during the lockdown is a huge challenge.

“Now considering those challenges coupled with the perennial water cuts, women are going to face a number of hygiene problems as they will also fail to dispose of the pads in a proper way that is if they manage to get the pads from then few supermarkets which they have access to.

Ndebele called for policy reviews that will ensure women have access to water and cheap if not free sanitary wear so that they fully enjoy their rights as citizens.

A number of young women have said spending 120 hours without water is going to subject them to traumatic monthly periods.

“For some of us two or three warm baths daily do not keep us only refreshed but they also soothe menstrual cramps. However now that we must save water I will have to endure more pain and feel uncomfortable during the whole period,” says Memory Ndlovu from Selbourne Park.


She says without water she will not be able to go out as she fears exposing her neighbors and fellow tenants to the smell of menstrual blood which can be worsened by poor hygiene.

These recurrent water challenges are likely to affect expectant and nursing mothers whose only hope is in health institutions who are spared from water cuts.

However, women spend a few days in hospitals and clinics during delivery and then afterwards are forced to source for water when they are still delicate and in post-natal pain and distress.

Tholokuhle Nare from Tsholotsho says women only have it easy when they are housed in waiting mothers shelters just before delivery.

“The struggle is real for rural women who rely on wells and rivers which have been drying up since last year. I had a relief when I was admitted into  waiting mothers shelter at the hospital. That was short lived because after delivery l had to go back home and within days l was up and down looking for water to keep the family running,” she says.

A midwife from the Council run Pelandaba Clinic in Bulawayo says  though women have access to water during delivery, something has to be done to ensure that even  at home they get water without having to crowd communal boreholes.

“We do discharge women after delivery though it does not mean they are physically and mentally fit to be  joining long winding queues for water in their places of residence. we do look fowatd for a time when women at least have access to water through bowsers so that less effort is needed from them to access the precious liquid,” she says.

A local gynecologist adds that poor hygiene during monthly periods can expose women to avoidable diseases like diarrhea, lice and various infections in the reproductive organs.

“With two consecutive drought years, the city will have to deal with water challenges which have a heavy bearing on women especially those with small babies. Pregnant women and nursing mothers need water to keep clean and fresh which if not achieved may affect them psychologically,” he says.

“Water shortages also expose women to preventable diseases linked to personal hygiene including Corona virus which we are already struggling to contain in  Zimbabwe and the world over. There should be means to ensure women have adequate water to bath and wash during menstruation so that homes are kept clean and safe from other infections.”

Picture by Eliah Suachoma

Thandeka Ndlovu is a journalist from Zimbabwe . This story is part of the GL News Service Gender and COVID 19 news series.

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