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School girl being taught on how to construct a reusable sanitary pad...These allow perennial use over extended periods of time. Image by Lindiwe Maseko
In Matabeleland, organisations are empowering girls to stay in school by providing homemade reusable sanitary pads. By addressing limited access to disposable products and overcoming menstrual hygiene challenges, these initiatives are breaking barriers and ensuring girls can confidently pursue their education.
BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — Sifiso Siziba*, a student from Cowdray Park in Bulawayo narrates how she would hide in the fields during school days.
“At school people laugh if one messes up her uniform, but it's inevitable since we would have used book pages or sometimes tissue for sanitation,” Siziba says.
Siziba, residing with her five cousins under the care of their grandmother, who works as a general worker, confronts the realities of their living situation.
“She buys food, sometimes we sleep without eating proper meals, so affording sanitary pads on a monthly basis is a sarcastic story, our basic needs outnumber her income,” Siziba adds.
Numerous studies have revealed a distressing trend: a significant number of girls are missing out on education due to the lack of proper menstrual sanitation.
In fear of the stigma associated with poor sanitation, girls and some women restrict themselves to the vicinity of their homes during menstruation, a barrier to their everyday hustle and academic life.
According to Inspire Women, Men and Children (IWMC), a Bulawayo based youth empowerment group, schoolgirls who cannot afford to buy disposable sanitary ware miss an average five days of school each month.
“That adds up to three months a year. This means they fall behind in a way they can never catch up. They end up using rags, weeds, newspapers, to absorb menstruation blood, endangering their health,” IWMC reports.
A student who dropped out from Filabusi Secondary, Mary Moyo* says her boyfriend cheated her into getting pregnant to avoid her menstrual cycle.
“I depended on my boyfriend for menstruation needs. He then advised me to indulge into sex with him so that I get pregnant and stay for months without thinking of a period.”
Mary Moyo*, Filabusi Secondary student dropout
“With an ignorant mind, pregnancy became the solution because for nine months one will be relieved from the menstruation nightmare. Unfortunately, I had to drop out of school.”
However, a game-changing solution has emerged with the introduction of reusable sanitary pads.
Their easy construction methods allow perennial use over extended periods of time.
These reusable sanitary pads are ingeniously crafted from materials like fleece, towelling material from old nappies, or white towels.
The IWMC organisation is teaching learners to make reusable sanitary ware.
IWMC Chief Trainer, Lindiwe Maseko, says sometimes pride and ego in urban girls prevent many from adopting the new methods.
“We struggle to convince urban girls to open up about how they manage their menstrual hygiene. Some will just say they use safe methods, with the pride to disclose that they can't afford disposable pads.”
“Some hate the maintenance systems of reusable pads; which is to thoroughly wash, soak in salt to kill bacteria and iron after.”
Undeterred in their mission, Maseko affirms that their awareness campaigns to change attitudes have continued with unwavering determination.
Complete reusable sanitary pads...The TFoHF teaches women on how to make such pads using locally available resources. Image by Lindiwe Maseko
“We then make follow-ups on the pads that our students would have constructed on their own and assess if the materials used are safe.”
“We further educate teachers at school and encourage them to counsel and train their students on safe methods of menstrual management,” Maseko says.
In Insiza, the Future of Hope Foundation (TFoHF), has also partnered with communities in solving challenges and obstacles through using locally available resources.
“We introduced the community women-led reusable sanitary pads. Using locally available fabrics, we teach women to make reusable sanitary pads for their own use,” reports TFoHF.
Siziba says she no longer skips lessons as she now uses reusable pads during her menstrual cycle.
“When I was first introduced to reusable pads by IWMC, I thought it was unsafe to use cloth for menstruation,” Siziba says.
“I'm happy that I can now attend school even during menstruation. I wish more girls could attend these workshops and accept reusable sanitary pads, they are the best if you get proper knowledge on their construction.”
Sifiso Siziba*, Cowdray Park student
Her counterpart, Moyo adds: “I was lucky to attain knowledge on the construction of reusable sanitary pads. I make sure that I pass the information to all the girls I meet or interact with. I don't want any girl child to fall prey because of sanitary pads.”
Editor’s Note: Some names marked with * have been changed to protect the identity of sources.
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