THERE is an uncomfortable issue that continues to affect girl’s attendance to school that firther negatively impacts on academic performance – menstrual hygiene.
It is a sad fact that many girls upon hitting puberty are not able to go to school when they are menstruating due to lack of sanitary pads.
For many young girls and women, the onset of menstruation may lead to school absenteeism, child marriage, sexual violence and loss of dignity, which is one of the foundation of all human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The UNICEF Guide to Menstrual Hygiene Materials (2019, pg. 9) highlights the fact that in low- and middle-income countries, many girls are not able to manage their menses and associated hygiene with ease and dignity.
A community member of Kanchibaya community has actually donatrd pads to a sexondary school recently and has used social media to highlight the problem caused by expensive sanitary products.
Kanungwe Chota Kanyanyamina, the Kanchibiya District chairperson said most girls in rural Zambia have to miss at least one week of school per month because they cannot afford menstrual products.
“Last week I chatted with schoolgirls in my district and I have been left with a disheartened heart that some girls stay away from school during their menstrual pour because of stigmatization,” she said.
“Periods are biological, it’s not something we can control and we have no choice in the matter. Why do we have to pay all this money (feminine hygiene products are expensive!) for something we didn’t ask for?
“I am not joining the crusade stating that pads should be free while condoms should be bought because the fight against HIV is equally very important.”
She went on to say that last week, ‘Brenda’ (not real name) shed tears as she narratd how boys laughed at her soiled dress as she had used a piece of cloth as a menstrual lining.
‘Brenda’ noted like many others, her family is barely able to get her a uniform and thus asking for pads would not be even a topic for discussion.
“When I inquired how she then takes care of herself during the menstrual period. Brenda narrated that she used to use an old piece of cloth; however, she says a couple of months ago she soiled her dress and the whole class laughed at her.
“Meanwhile, ‘Chanda’ also not real name said she made a decision not to go to school during her menstrual days because once the cloth she uses as a disposable pad slipped and fell in full view of her male teacher and friends.”
Period poverty is very high in Kanchibiya district and many rural parts of Zambia and the district chairperson said she shed a tear to learn that some girls sit in the sand during their periods.
Menstrual products are a basic necessity for menstruators but it is very expensive! Children are being made to pick between pads or feeding their bellies.
She has made an appeal to the government to pass a deliberate law that will see at least free distribution of sanitary pads in areas like Kanchibaya or even a deliberate policy that would significantly reduce the cost of pads as a start.
No young menstruator should face losing class time because she cannot afford or access feminine hygiene products.
It’s pathetic and sad that young girls are punished for skipping school solely because they have no access to simple necessities.
No young menstruator should have to face losing class time because she cannot afford or even access feminine hygiene products.
“Allow me thank Samakai Foundation who came to my aid and together we distributed sanitary towels to pupils in Kanchibiya. I sincerely appeal to all people to help me address and drive this agenda that is oppressing our girl child from accessing the desired education,” she added.
In Zambia, studies have estimated that half of the population is female and over 80 percent are within the reproductive age. This, therefore, means that menstrual hygiene management is an area that needs much closer attention, due to its ability to have cross cutting impacts on the social and economic wellbeing of citizens.
In 2017, the government announced it would distribute free sanitary pads to girls in some rural and underserved areas. Later, menstrual hygiene management classes have been introduced in schools, and partnerships with organisations such as World Vision have brought reusable sanitary pads to rural communities.
Some non-governmental organisations have also donated reusable pads in a bid to bridge the gap.
We would encourage more stakeholders to look into the plight of school girls in both urban and rural areas regarding menstrual hygiene.