Zimbabwe: Women’s menstrual cycle tied to cycle of poverty

Date: October 31, 2012
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Bulawayo, 31 October: Ever since I turned 13, my parents had to adjust their budget to accommodate my monthly menstrual cycle, which costs an average of US$2 each month.

A girl’s menstrual flow ranges from three to seven days and normally requires two packets of sanitary pads or tampons monthly.

The cost is meagre to some families and it is usually taken for granted that everyone can afford it. However, young rural girls are known to use cow dung, dried mealie cobs and newspapers to absorb menstrual blood each month because they don’t have enough money for sanitary wear.

Most of these young women not only risk their health by using various unhygienic sanitary wear, but sacrifice their only feasible means to emancipation in Zimbabwe – schooling – which they miss during menstruation because they do not have sanitary wear.

The use of abrasive objects such as dried mealie cobs on the tender vagina can also lead to the contraction of harmful diseases. These diseases cost thousands of dollars to treat, which seems illogical when compared to the mere US$1 needed to buy the cheapest pads.

According to the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC), 57 million condoms were distributed across the country in 2011 because Zimbabwe, like most other Southern African countries, has high HIV and AIDS infection rates. Last year, ZNFPC reportedly spent about US$500 000 to purchase both male and female condoms.

If the country can invest this much on condoms, why do the majority of women in rural areas still live without access to affordable and quality sanitary wear, something essential to their reproductive health?

The government claims education is the right of every young woman, yet statistics from Say What, a youth-led reproductive health organisation, show that ordinary young women typically miss 13 days in every school term because of menstruation.

Knowledge is power and if the government fails to guarantee the education of the girl child because she misses so much school time for this reason, then the girl child can be labelled as powerless.

Since many rural families live below the poverty datum line, purchasing a packet of pads is a huge expense.

In separate interviews, the Deputy Prime Minister, Thokozani Khupe, and Dorcas Sibanda, a parliamentarian, expressed concern over the issue saying it has a great bearing on women’s empowerment.

“It is a pity because Millenium Development Goals were set in 2000, the government only started raising issues about maternal health in 2010, ten years after the goals were set,” said Khupe. “If such a critical issue has taken so long to be addressed, I fear we will wait another ten or more years before government finalises issues on the provision of sanitary pads. The issue of providing our young girls with sanitary wear must be prioritised.”

Khupe said she also thinks government should not be making money from the sale of sanitary towels and it should cut the 15% tax on these products.

Meanwhile, Bulawayo Central Member of Parliament Dorcas Sibanda said the country can afford to spare some money for sanitary wear.

“We have set funds aside for many important projects like condoms, medication which include ARVs and TB drugs. It is high time policymakers prioritise sanitary wear and use the diamonds we are rich in to help alleviate poverty in our young girls,” said Sibanda. “It is so unfair for a young woman to miss lessons for days because she cannot afford to buy sanitary wear. If the young women continue missing out on lessons during menstruation, it will be impossible to empower women generally.”

It would be wise for Zimbabwe’s policymakers to prioritise this matter and look into the many ways failure to access sanitary towels affects the health, economy and the development of women.

The government should realise that women’s 28-day cycle is tied to the cycle of poverty. It should introduce a sexual and reproductive health rights levy to help the country attain gender equality by 2015 – a goal of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

It should also ensure the provision of free sanitary towels for young women and girls in order to reduce health hazards and promote their dignity and rights.

Thandeka Moyo is a final year student at the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe studying towards a Bachelor of Science Honours in Journalism and Media Studies.This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.


0 thoughts on “Zimbabwe: Women’s menstrual cycle tied to cycle of poverty”

Memory gonese says:

Surely the government has to take the issue of sanitary wear seriously. Cow dung for a pad is just hell on earth.. what an eye opening article!

Prosper Ndlovu says:

A very captivating write up, it resonates well with everyday practical challenges facing our people, especially women. Hats off Thandeka for having the guts to talk about an issue that hundreds of people are reserved to discuss openly.

Zanele says:

I totally agree with u even in Swaziland girls during their menstruation they use cloths as their pads.I think that Government should provide the sanitary pads to all Swazis not only to those are sick.

Mirriam Mwila Chileshe says:

The information is really touching. Women and girls’ lives are in danger, they need to be educated especially in this pandemic of cervical cancer,its shocking because menstrual circle is natural and it must run naturally.

Grace chaile says:

It is a very good article as it speaks about reality. This is the same challenge girls in rural Zambia face. its only that for them,the use clothes as an alternative during the period.

This is a challenge has a girl at times as to use a wet cloth when it has failed to dry up over night.

Mukwakwa Nester says:

good discussion, sanitary pads need to be subsdized

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