More than 62 percent of rural girls in Zimbabwe do not afford sanitary pads. As a result, many end up dropping out of school for fear of being the laughing stock. Others turn to unhygienic alternatives such as newspapers, rags, leaves and cow dung.
The subject is close to the hearts of many mothers, including Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development Minister Nyasha Chikwinya as evidenced by her emotional sentiments on the issue.
Gutu is one of the districts in such dire circumstances. Many girls blossoming into adulthood are facing the battle between nature and poverty without respite.
Yet, the broader society appears not to understand the implications of their predicament. “We have had one or two girls missing school per week in some instances. “Most of such girls stay with their grandparents who do not afford to pay school fees let alone purchase sanitary pads for them,” says Nyazvidzi Secondary School head Mr Chibodo.
“These girls always used to go to one of their teachers to ask for pads (during their menstrual cycles) each month and in most cases, the teachers they approached did not have the pads.”
A nurse who grew up in the district, Mrs Ellie Hamandishe, believes more needs to be done to enable girls to learn comfortably. She said this as she donated 72 packets of sanitary pads to 65 girls at Nyazvidzi Secondary School.
Mrs Hamandishe said: “I was touched when I noticed a girl walking home from school with a jersey wrapped around her waist so that she could cover her bloodied dress. “It was then that I decided to help rural girls of school-going age with basic sanitary pads.
“These girls use cloths because they have no money to buy pads. “They stay with their grandparents or their parents cannot afford to buy the pads. “The growth point is 40 km from their school so it is also expensive to travel to buy the pads there. “So, they end up resorting to cloths which are harmful.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, one in 10 girls of school-going age in Africa misses school or drops out altogether during their menstrual cycle.
Minister Chikwinya once remarked: “It is so painful that women cannot afford sanitary ware and have to use unhygienic means such as leaves, newspapers and tissues as pads.”
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