The Ministry of Education estimates that girls lose up to 60 days of schooling each year because they lack access to affordable and dependable sanitary wear. Add to that the stigma surrounding the natural process of menstruation, and the result is girls isolating themselves because they feel embarrassed or self conscious. Some are even forced to drop out of school altogether.
Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is becoming increasingly important as more attention is being focused on the plight of the girl child. For Girls by Women (FGBW) – a locally registered Trust founded in August this year by Farai Masuwa – aims to create awareness and to develop and support initiatives that promote MHM.
Last August FBGW conducted a successful train-the-trainer programme in conjunction with Elevation Zimbabwe (a life skills association) as part of an ongoing programme. After the presentation Rachel Saunyama of Elevation Zimbabwe said, “FBGW’s outreach to our team was transformational. FBGW’s training equipped 15 of our training buddies [young volunteers] with appropriate knowledge and skills to support young girls through their cycle in a safe and healthy way. It was also enlightening as we begun mapping how we can raise awareness among the boys about the natural processes the girls go through.”
For girls in low-income areas access to safe and healthy sanitary products is expensive and often unavailable. Many families are reluctant to spend their little amount of money on sanitary products for one family member and prefer to prioritise spending for the benefit of the whole family. Some girls are forced to use cloth (usually recycled from sheets), clothes, or even mattress filling, which can be uncomfortable and unhygienic if not properly washed and dried. Others rely on single-use materials such as: toilet paper, tissue, or cotton wool which are locally available and easy to dispose of. Disposable, single-use pads are more comfortable and hygienic and offer the best protection if changed as often as recommended. However, these are out of the reach of most women due to their cost.
Reusable pads are becoming more and more available but girls also need access to clean water and soap to manage them. Other options include tampons and menstrual cups which again tend to be expensive as they are imported. The bottom line about sanitary ware is that all girls have the right to decide what product they want to use, based on their situation and considering cultural acceptability, accessibility, affordability, comfort and ease of use.
FGBW is currently advocating for the removal of all the taxes on imported sanitary products which make them expensive. They are proposing that sanitary products be supplied free of charge to vulnerable girls and young women through schools, orphanages, rehabilitation and community centres. FGBW are also negotiating for permission to present their programme in both government and private schools to educate school teachers, parents and caregivers on the importance of providing support and guidance for menstruating girls.
FGBW is involved in several donation and fund raising drives so that they can collect and distribute essential items like pads, bath towels, soap, toilet paper and new underwear for girls in need. They work in partnership with other organisations in collaborative projects, like Huru International, Ruremekedzo Organisation, Vasikana Project, She Builds Africa and Girls R Us.
Image: For Girls by Women Trustees Farai Masuwa (left) and Rumbidzai Munhapedzi.