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Climate Change Worsens Period Poverty


In marginalised communities of Matabeleland, the effects of climate change are exposing women and girls to health risks during menstruation. Image by Unsplash

In marginalised communities of Matabeleland, the effects of climate change are exposing women and girls to health risks during menstruation.

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | FEB 9, 2023

LUPANE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Climate change has been widely reported in relation to its real and potential impacts on the planet, animals, and humans but less is known about how it affects women's menstrual health.

Access to clean water and appropriate menstruation products for women and girls to manage menstrual hygiene is being hampered by climate change.

In Lupaka village in Lupane, Catherine Mleya (19), recalls missing classes during her menstrual cycle.

“I missed the entire week of classes because my grandparents were unable to purchase sanitary pads,” says Catherine.

Her mother, Geraldine Mleya, says buying sanitary ware is a luxury when they face hunger following last year’s poor harvests.

“There is nothing in the granary, and without food, everything else becomes a luxury.”
Geraldine Mleya

Susan Hove, a Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) expert, says it is important to comprehend the effects on menstrual health on women and girls.

“Although climate change does not directly affect your period, it causes many other factors that can upset your cycle. One of those factors is girls and women's inability to purchase sanitary pads due to food insecurity and poverty,” says Hove.

According to SNV Netherlands Development Organization, an estimated 62% of school girls are forced to miss school every month due to a lack of sanitary wear.  

SNV Netherlands provides market-based, sustainable solutions in agri-food, energy, and water in Zimbabwe.

Samantha Moyo, (25), of Kamativi, says the closure of Kamativi Tin Mine has worsened their period poverty.

“The struggle is real, especially for girls and women. Most of us cannot afford sanitary pads. The majority of water sources are drying up as well,” Moyo says.

Moyo says they have to walk long distances in search of water.

Shamwari yeMwanasikana, a child rights group, says lack of access to clean water increases the risk of hygiene-related illnesses such as yeast infections for women and girls during menstruation.

“Girls must routinely bath and wash their hands every time they replace their sanitary items while they are on their period,” says Shamwari yeMwanasikana.

According to estimates by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), about one in ten school-age African girls drop out of school at puberty due to unhygienic conditions and lack of separate facilities for menstruation.

Unicef says women in rural areas typically experience higher pain throughout their periods.

Researchers say climate change may increase health risks for women by shifting the timing of first menstruation.

Regina Boland, a researcher with the Environmental Research and Public Health, explains: “The menstrual cycle influences numerous vital bodily processes therefore, when menarche (first menstruation) happens too soon or too late, it may have an impact on disease risk and long-term health.

ALSO READ: Remaining Green Amidst Environmental Threats in Matabeleland

“Understanding how climate change will impact the future health of women and all persons who menstruate or have menstruated will require a close examination of menstrual cycles and the date of menarche.”

Boland adds: “Breast cancer, heart disease, mental health problems, and poor reproductive health were among the conditions linked to early menarche. Girls who have a late menarche may be more susceptible to osteoporosis and infertility problems in the future.”

Boland says rising temperatures, droughts, and floods brought on by climate change are anticipated to diminish the availability of crops and food globally.

Boland says this will affect girls and women as the body requires adequate energy and nutrition to menstruate.

“Those who are already at risk of hunger and malnutrition, live near historically polluted areas, and cannot evacuate when a hurricane or other disaster hits, are likely to suffer the greatest burden of climate-driven effects on mensuration and later disease.”
Regina Boland, a researcher with the Environmental Research and Public Health

Ruth Bikwa, a local activist for girls' rights in Hwange, called on policy makers to take measures to ensure women and girls enjoy their SRHR.

“Focusing on individuals who suffer the most from exposures and disease is a crucial first step. Working to lessen that burden requires research and policies that support safe and healthy settings for those who suffer the most in our communities,” says Bikwa.

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