Cape Town - Faux bloodstained underwear, stained sanitary hygiene products and stained hands marked the clarion call for the government to end period poverty by ensuring menstrual hygiene products are free and accessible for all who menstruate.
Chants of “End period poverty” and “Viva menstrual rights, viva” carried through the Cape Town CBD as a group of around 80 people marched from Hanover Street in District Six to Parliament on Friday.
The march was organised by Team Free Sanitary Pads and FemConnect, supported by several organisations including Women’s Health by Fatima Kathrada and Women’s Health Ekklesia.
Over 36 000 people signed the petition calling for government regulation and legislation regarding menstrual health by the passing of a Menstrual Health and Hygiene Bill.
A similar march was held from the Union Buildings to the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities in Pretoria.
FemConnect founder Asonele Kotu said in the absence of school-based programmes and donations by NGOs/ CBOs or corporates, schoolgoing girls would use toilet paper, socks, newspaper or cloth.
“If they can’t use that, they don’t go to school and stay at home. So it’s either they create alternatives or they just completely stay away from school,” Kotu said.
“It’s either the government provides free sanitary pads for those in need or they find a way to make sure that the distribution model incorporates the people who are already doing the work – these are your NGOs, CBOs.”
The memorandum of demands was read out and handed to a representative of the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, with 15 days given for feedback.
“We are going to use this to put pressure on other departments which have got the budget to implement some of these demands,” said parliamentary liaison officer Jack Matlala.
ANC Women’s League member Vuyokazi Malafu said: “We are not going to be treated like second-class citizens. We want a feminist government. The reason why we want those things is because we understand women’s rights also need to be put in place and they also need to be put forward.”
Several references were made to the free and accessible use of condoms in public bathrooms, which is a choice, but not in the case of menstruation.
FemConnect said approximately 7 million schoolgirls were unable to afford sanitary products and as a result they experience period poverty each month.
Be the Change foundation’s Alexa Collins took off from work to join the protest.