I believe change is possible, and I envision a world where girls in remote rural areas as well as other disadvantaged communities like mine can have their periods with dignity.
In this world, girls will not have to miss out on classes because they have no proper sanitary wear. For so many young girls, menstruation is an addition to the long list of gender disparities they face every day of their lives. I find it almost unbelievable that having to go through a period without appropriate sanitary wear can infringe on the most basic human rights of girls – including access to education.
In Zimbabwe, many girls attending schools in remote rural areas and other disadvantaged areas – such as farming communities – stay at home for the entire length of their periods due to fear of soiling themselves in the presence of others. Sometimes they use discarded cloth, but this does not offer sufficient protection on their long walks to school. It is these fears which prompt them to stay home and miss out their classes. If girls miss out on classes, they won’t be able to excel in their studies, which not only impacts negatively on the girl child herself, but on her community as a whole.
The education of girls is undeniably one of the primary focus areas of development efforts, as female school achievement is believed to have long-lasting and far-reaching economic effects. I believe that it’s imperative to provide free sanitary wear for disadvantaged girls in order to help secure a brighter future for all.
To illustrate further, the difficulty of using cloth while on your period is that you need to constantly wash, dry and change the cloth. However, schools don’t have facilities where girls can wash themselves and change their cloths, and there is nowhere to hang cloths to dry. This helps to explain why many stay home once a month, and demonstrates the importance of free provision of sanitary wear to girls from disadvantaged communities.
Stigma and gender disparities are still rife within many communities in Zimbabwe, and it should be noted that the subject of menstruation remains a taboo. Parents don’t discuss it with their children, which leaves girls to suffer from pain and shame in silence.
In my community, there are many negative cultural attitudes associated with menstruation, including the idea that menstruating women and girls are ‘contaminated’, ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’. Stigma puts girls in an extremely difficult position – if they don’t have proper sanitary wear, they soil themselves, and if they are seen, they risk being segregated.
I believe that one day, girls from disadvantaged communities like mine will be free to experience their periods with dignity. They will be able to attend school, excel in their studies and, above all, stand and fight against stigma and discrimination. I believe that this begins with access to free sanitary wear for all girls.