Cape Town - For International Day of the Girl Child, celebrated this past Wednesday, one grassroots organisation has sought to highlight period poverty.
I_Menstruate, which works to eradicate period poverty, released a report unpacking the challenges faced when it comes to accessing menstrual products.
Research for the full report, “Bleeding in Silence: Barriers to Menstrual Hygiene among Schoolgirls in South Africa” was conducted with 541 learners in grades 8 to 10 and staff members from 18 schools (2 per province) in various languages.
The report shows that 83% of girls do not have regular access to menstrual hygiene products at school and home, and 17% of girls who need to change and dispose of sanitary products don’t have adequate toilets and sanitary facilities at school or at home.
It also found that 25% of girls miss a significant number of school days, and that 75% of girls felt stressed, afraid and helpless at menarche because they didn’t know what was happening.
Other findings included that 89% of schools do not provide menstrual hygiene products to girl learners regularly. About 33% of schools accessed menstrual hygiene products (mostly sanitary pads) from the government, while 50% got them from NGOs and private companies. Two schools (17%) had no access at all.
The report quotes 15-year-old Siyamthanda Guga from Gugulethu, who said: “They (the government) must provide pads for people who need them.”
The Western Cape Department of Social Development, in partnership with the Western Cape Education Department, meanwhile tried to do its part for International Day of the Girl Child, saying that it had delivered more than 3.432 million packs of sanitary pads to learners across the province.
Since the inception of its Sanitary Dignity Project in 2020/21, they have increased the number of beneficiaries from 94 817 learners at 220 schools, to 130 396 learners at 365 schools during the current financial year.
Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez said: “Period poverty can have a negative impact on girls if they’re missing school days due to not having access to sanitary products. However, this project enables indigent girl learners to better manage their menstruation.
“While we have reached a great number of beneficiaries as government, we cannot do this alone. Therefore, I thank the many NGOs, companies and individuals who continue to conduct sanitary drives.
“We all must do our part in our homes and communities to dismantle the inequalities and challenges faced by girls, and to ensure that their voices and experiences are valued,” Fernandez said.