‘Period poverty’: No normal life for destitute girls without sanitary pads, says activist
According to Cassius Selala, Sanitary Dignity Implementation Framework (SDIF) can be expanded through a bigger budget so that they can reach more people.
Why are sanitary pads not as easily accessible as condoms?
This question has lingered for ages and continues to persist, especially among community activists in South Africa.
So dire is the situation for poverty-stricken girls and women that activists refer to the lack of menstrual supplies and its impact as “period poverty”.
Period poverty is a pressing issue that affects millions of women and girls around the world, including South Africa.
Despite efforts by the government and various organisations, the accessibility of sanitary products remains a challenge, particularly for marginalised groups.
Period poverty and its impacts
According to Health-E, of the 22 million South African women and young girls who menstruate, 7.7 million (35%) don’t have the financial means to purchase sanitary products. And more than 4 million women in schools, varsities and sport clinics miss education and training for an average of five days per month because of the lack of access to sanitary products.
This staggering number highlights the dire need for comprehensive solutions to address period poverty.
Activist, Kekeletso Khena, says period poverty not only affects a person’s physical health but also hampers their educational and socio-economic opportunities.
“Being poor as a child is not a conscious thing until it affects your mental health, confidence and interactions with the world. And when you are a struggling adult, period poverty hinders you from going to work and sometimes at the very worst hinders you from looking for the work.
“The inability to afford menstrual products often leads to missed school or work days, hindering progress and perpetuating the cycle of poverty,” says Khaena.
More has to be done
The Department of Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities said it implemented the Sanitary Dignity Implementation Framework (SDIF).
The SDIF has been offering free disposable sanitary pads to indigent girls and women since 2019.
“The provision of these essential products empowers girls to attend school without interruption, ensuring equal educational opportunities for all genders,” says communications director Cassius Selala.
However, much as this programme has helped more than 4 million pupils and more than 400 000 university students, they are unable to reach the many marginalised women in some parts of the country.
Affordability remains a significant barrier for individuals from low-income backgrounds. Many struggle to afford sanitary pads regularly, resulting in improvised solutions or the use of unhygienic alternatives.
Period poverty exacerbates inequalities and affects education, employment, and overall well-being.
“Although provision is made to ensure that girls and women’s dignity is addressed and that menstrual products poverty is mitigated, many other indigent deserving women and girls cannot be reached due to budgetary constraints”. said Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the department’s statement.
“Ensuring that no girl is left behind”
According to Selala, the programme can be expanded through a bigger budget so that they can reach more people.
To be able to bridge the gap of period poverty, private organisations such as Komani have intervened.
Komani offers handover programmes to which they provide menstrual hygiene management.
“We have directly impacted 17 schools to date. Moreover, the generosity of our sponsors has allowed for the distribution of our products to various institutions, including community-based organisations, youth groups, etc. which amplifies our reach and impact,” said Stephanie Lamour a director at Komani.
Furthermore, Lamour said Komani has manufactured and distributed more than 13 000 pads to date, “providing essential menstrual support to girls in need”.
An unfair expense
Khena says menstrual care should be placed under or rather close to reproductive health rights to understand the impact of periods on women’s daily lives, including in but not limited to academia, school or work.
“From a human rights perspective it is important that the state provides zero-rated sanitary wear. Secondly, within the medical space there needs to be a concept that addresses sexual reproductive health and ensure that this concept includes policies that address issues such as endometriosis.
“Maybe we are not having a strong enough conversation about reproductive rights of South Africa because enshrined in the Constitution is the right to proper reproductive rights health. However, for somewhat reason periods do not fall within that space, so there needs to be policies formulated to accommodate women and what we go through,” she said.
According to Dlamini-Zuma’s department, sanitary products have been zero VAT-rated since 2019.
Moreover, Khena said that sanitary wear is an unfair expense to women.
“Women who are employed and buy pads must get back returns as a rebate when they calculate their tax,” she said.