By Annahstacia Ndlovu
Reusable sanitary pads programme run at Mahlothova Secondary School situated 40 kilometres North of Bulawayo in Umguza District in Matabeleland North is a lifesaver for rural pupils who used to miss school for days during their menstrual period.
Since taking the initiative to make their own sanitary ware, the female pupils have managed to attend their classes and not miss out on school.
Most female pupils who have reached puberty face challenges in accessing sanitary ware during their menstrual cycle, a development which results in them lagging behind in their studies as they often absent themselves from school during their monthly cycle.
Melody Mpofu, one of the pupils who is leading in teaching others how to make reusable pads explains the program.
“We launched this program last term having been trained by a Mentor from Sister to Sister and we considered it paramount for us the underprivileged to do it ourselves. It was always bothering me because during my monthly periods I would use rags and not even come to school,” she said.
Another pupil Hleliwe Moyo from the same school said that they were now even supplying other schools with reusable sanitary ware from their program.
“Our program focuses on making reusable pads and we make them ourselves as it is just easy to make them. We have resolved to make as many as we can so that we also give others and help ourselves. We were all along failing to come to school during our monthly periods because we had no sanitary ware but ever since we launched this program we now come to school every day.”
Blessing Masuku from the school is another student involved in this program.
“If I am in my cycle I carry three of these pads with me to school. While at school I check myself to see if I need to change the pad and if need be I do so. At home, I wash the used pad with water only and hang it to dry.”
Another member of the group Rebbecca Ndlovu said owing to the economic situation they cannot afford disposable pads.
“The cost of sanitary ware is USD 4 and above therefore I cannot afford them. If one cannot afford then she misses school for the duration of her period. All along I have been using pieces of cloth but they could not successfully contain the flow.”
Another student Princes Sithole said using sanitary ware they make themselves is cheaper as it is free of charge.
“Reusable sanitary pads have helped me because I didn’t have disposable ones in the first place. These are helpful because you use and wash, compared to disposable ones which one would use and dispose of and then begin the hassle to look for money to buy another set again.”
Bulawayo City Council (BCC) director of health services Dr. Edwin Sibanda explains their partnership with Umguza Rural District Council in health programs meant to improve the lives of villagers in peripheral areas of the city.
“BCC has a number of health programs it implements in partnership with other local authorities. These include women’s health, sexual rights, child spacing among others where we also partner even with other organisations that are not necessarily local authorities.”
A teacher from Mhlothova Secondary School Miss Wenzile Ndlovu said they welcome the program of making reusable pads although they are still facing challenges.
“We are very grateful for this program but we still face a challenge of shortage of material used for making reusable pads. We are looking for someone who can partner and assist us in that regard. We are facing a challenge of absenteeism by girls especially during their menstrual cycle but we hope this program has the possibility of reducing that problem,” she noted.
“We request that those who have been trained in this program should be further assisted with more knowledge and material. In the past, the school would buy disposable sanitary pads for all girls but it has increasingly become difficult. Teachers would buy disposable pads for better-performing students but lately, we are no longer able to do so as low wages have incapacitated us. As females, we understand the problem faced by these girls and we wish them a better future than ours.”
Matabeleland North Guidance and Councillors Teachers Association chairperson Gabriella Chikara said since the beginning of March they are in the process of ensuring that they train pupils in more than 20 secondary schools in the province in making reusable sanitary pads.
“We have a very huge problem here and assistance is needed. Girls face difficulties during their monthly periods and they absent themselves from school during their monthly periods. Some hide throughout their cycle while others use papers as sanitary pads. Therefore, we hope to spread this program of making reusable sanitary pads across the province.”
Member of Parliament for Umguza Constituency Dorcas Sibanda expressed displeasure with the increase in the price of sanitary ware.
“We are very saddened by the ever-increasing cost of sanitary ware. We are looking at a situation where both the girl and her parents are not working and we wonder how the girl child would go to school without sanitary pads. It is nature, it is not a crime and therefore one should not suffer during that time especially the girl child when going to school. We once engaged government about this challenge and government scrapped off tax on these products and the problem eased.
“However, we still must go back again to the government about this challenge. The girl child should not use unhealthy material because that results in her getting sick and then the cost of funding her medical treatment becomes too high. Since we farm cotton why does the government not take advantage of that and eliminate this problem once and for all instead of making the girl child and women suffer?”
One packet of sanitary pads now costs close to ZWL$30 and this has left many teenagers stranded and forced to stay away from school during their monthly periods.
The country currently has no functional statute which ensures that women unconditionally access sanitary ware, and this has left young women stranded while female legislators are lobbying for access to sanitary pads at reasonable prices.