#SexColumn: How period poverty has increased substantially during the pandemic
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By Sharon Gordon
On Friday – 28 May was World Menstrual Health Day so guess what I am going to talk about today?
This global day is celebrated every 28th of May and I recently found out why. The menstrual cycle is usually every 28 days, and the actual period of bleeding is on average 5 days. Hence 28 May!
On Thursday the symposium on Menstrual Health, hosted by the African Coalition for Menstrual Health Management ended. It was a virtual event with countries from all over Africa participating. Approximately 150 individuals from state and civil society participated.
It was clear from every session that period poverty has increased substantially during the pandemic with resources being diverted to other needs. This has derailed many initiatives including ours in South Africa. Unfortunately, periods don’t stop in a pandemic.
Dignity Dreams an NPO that manufactures and distributes washable eco friendly pads in the green economy and to those in need, has been running a couple of campaigns to raise awareness and much needed funds to keep their CSI going.
Paint social media red #PaintSocialMediaRed has been supported by Versus Paints. They manufactured 3 different shades of red paint which have been used to paint hands red, leaving a print and a message. These will be collected and hopefully printed in a book at the end of the year.
So far Kingsmead College, Maryvale College, Roedean and the Junior City Council have been keen participants or have pledged to take part. You can still participate as they are running the initiative for the rest of the year. There is a small fee payable which all goes towards supporting the NPO in their work.
The second campaign is #RedMyLips. You purchase one of 3 shades of red lipstick from Dignity Dreams by clicking on this link.
Then you make a lipography and leave a message with the hashtag #RedMyLips and #DignityDreams. Again, all the messages will be collected and printed. The campaign runs all year. Dimanzi Perfumes has kicked off the campaign and their video on the event is a wonderful watch. Also thank you to Tandi Potgieter for all her work and participation in the campaign to be found on Instagram @tandipotgieter.
You can read all about why red lipstick and how to participate on the Dignity Dreams Blog – just search for ‘lipstick’ and they will pop up – or follow the link.
There are detailed instruction on how to participate.
I can talk about sex, fantasies or fetish without so much as a blush but when it comes to having to deal with menstruation, you will catch me squirming after all these years.
I’m not sure why I still feel such a high level of discomfort but I’m sure that it has a lot to do with trying to fit into a man’s world and the ever so subtle undermining towards women having their period. Men can participate in our ongoing campaign #PadManChallenge. Details are also available on the Dignity Dreams Site.
There is a TED Talk about PMS and the speaker alleges that there is no proof that PMS exists. It has become the myth with which we protect ourselves from being criticized for being emotional on both sides of the scale, tears and anger, but I digress.
According to Stats SA there are 8.2 million learners in non fee paying schools in South Africa. Let’s make the assumption that 50% are girls and that these are the poorest of the poor. Access to sex education and information is limited and very often non-existent. These young girls, between the ages 9 to 12 are starting to have their period with very little access to resources.
Social Workers advise that more often than not they have no idea what is happening to them. Imagine being alone and in pain (because it often hurts), bleeding, all this in a shack somewhere with no access to basic amenities.
Dignity Dreams is a NPO that distributes re-usable sanitary towels to these young girls. Not only do they distribute them but they have empowered several unemployed women by teaching them to manufacture these sanitary towels.
I went to price sanitary towels recently and couldn’t find anything cheaper than R2.50 per towel. These are one use only. To maintain menstrual hygiene one should use at least three towels per day depending on the strength of flow. That’s a minimum of R7.50 per day for approximately 5 to 7 days per month. When your decision is whether to buy bread for the family or sanitary wear for one member I know which one I would choose, presuming I had a choice.
These young girls, apart from having little or no information about what is happening to their body also don’t know that menstruation indicates that they are now fertile. Periods are starting as young as 9, sex education only starts in schools when the learners are 13. I think we may have missed the bus!
The Dignity Dreams washable sanitary towels are manufactured out of toweling, waterproofing and polycotton. The washable pads are by far the most sustainable and eco friendly options available. One washable pad is equivalent to 144 disposable pads that inevitably end up in landfill and take time if not hundreds of years to degrade. I’m never quite sure why we don’t all use them if we are concerned about the environment. Just think about it – as I write this, 53 million women, are bleeding on the African Continent – that’s a hell of a lot of pads!
Each young girl receives a Dignity Dreams Pack that includes six washable sanitary towels, panties and a zip lock bag all contained in a draw string bag for easy storage. If you purchase them retail the box included 3 heavy flow and 3 medium flow pads. A portion of each purchase is donated to the NPO for its distribution work.
What makes these sanitary towels extraordinary is that they are reusable for up to 5 years. When handing out the packs the girls are also taught how to wash and sanitize them.
So why am I telling you all this? Because this sector is bleeding if you don’t mind the pun. To keep young girls from not having access to products they need your help. Participate in one of the campaigns mentioned above – Donate (they are a PBO so you can get a tax break). They are BEE Level 1 so your corporate requirements are taken care of, buy a pack for yourself or donate it to someone in need.
Each pack costs R220. What else can you do for R220 that will change someone’s life and give them dignity for the next 5 years?
So here is my plea, in the spirit of sex education and empowerment, donate, arrange a charity function or bully your company into making a contribution.