Girls’ inability to manage menstrual hygiene is another pandemic we must tackle
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By Sinethemba Madolo
During August, women and girls from all walks of life become the centre of attention, slogans and themes are bandied about with all and sundry having something to say about the plight of women in the country.
It’s not surprising that these themes come and go with Women’s Month, and are only remembered and rehashed again the following year.
Women are often praised for their strength and resilience in overcoming obstacles and, during this month, many of their struggles are highlighted with little to no resolution.
One must applaud the new generation of women for taking a different approach to the struggles faced by women in all facets of life. The #Imnotimbokodo sends a telling message to all that women are vulnerable and they are hurting, therefore can’t be equated to imbokodo (a rock).
One struggle that affects women and especially young girls is menstrual hygiene. Millions of women and girls around the world lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene, especially those from rural areas. Inadequate water and sanitation facilities and the steep prices of menstrual pads and tampons pose crucial obstacles.
Mounting evidence shows that girls’ inability to manage their menstrual hygiene results in them missing school, which in turn has a severe economic backlash on their lives, their families and the country. The UN has stated that one in 10 girls in Africa misses school due to menstruation.
Another challenge facing women and girls is the inability to maintain their menstruation in a private, safe and dignified manner due to the lack of separate toilets with doors that can lock, the unavailability of places to dispose of used sanitary towels and water to wash hands.
Adding to the woes of women and girls during “their time of the month”, are the taboos and stigmas attached to menstruation that lead to an overall culture of silence around the topic, resulting in limited information on menstruation and hygiene.
Such lack of information and misinformation, in some cases, can have ramifications on the health and dignity of girls and women.
Given the multiple challenges women and girls face, it is evident that promoting menstrual hygiene is not only a sanitation matter but a human one.
While the hand is always pointing at the direction of government, I urge business as well to play a critical role and not leave this “pandemic” at the door of government.
The Department of Water and Sanitation has spearheaded some of the programmes to assist girls with free sanitary pads but it is not enough, all hands on the deck are needed to build a society.
The department recently gave free sanitary pads to adolescent girls in an effort to ensure they did not miss classes. The department continues in its efforts to provide water to every household and school to ensure the health safety of women and girls during menstruation.
The department understands the importance of safeguarding the dignity and bodily integrity of women and girls and calls on the rest of the nation to do the same.
This is the fight that we must all fight because it strips the dignity of women and leads to a low self-esteem, to the detriment of young, bright minds.
Sinethemba Madolo is a communicator at the Department of Water and Sanitation.