WOMEN’S monthly periods are costing them so much more than the pain of menstrual cramps. The stigma that comes with the topic plus the ever-rising cost of sanitary wear are putting a strain on women.
Many organisations and individuals in Zimbabwe have called for free distribution of sanitary pads, similar to the condom style distribution, arguing that menstruation is a natural biological process while sex is a choice.
Having a period is a hefty cost and it doesn’t include the cost of the regular doctor’s exams to keep your birth control prescription up to date and your reproductive health in check.
On average, a woman has her period running from three to seven days and the average woman menstruates from age 13 until age 51. That means the average woman endures 456 periods over 38 years.
It is not just the girls and women who benefit from having proper menstrual hygiene, the broader society and national economies can profit from better menstruation management. Therefore women’s sexual and reproductive health are not just women’s issues but are societal issues.
Period poverty is undoubtedly a serious issue for girls and women on low incomes and the use of unhygienic material in place of sanitary pads by the girl child is therefore a cause for concern.
The high cost of sanitary wear is infringing on women’s sexual reproductive health rights.
Women and girls have the right to identify their own health needs, to access appropriate health technologies, and to effectively manage their health conditions including seeking health services and professional help when necessary. This right is denied when the appropriate menstrual hygiene products are not provided.
There are multiple health risks associated with the use of unhygienic products during menstruation. Poor management of menstrual hygiene can lead to increased susceptibility to infections, bad odour of menstrual blood due to infrequent change of cloth, a painful period and discomfort.
There are some women who are blessed with a one-day, hardly-feel-it period but if you don’t find yourself in that fortunate category then periods can be painful, embarrassing and expensive.
Menstruation is a natural and essential part of the reproductive cycle but too often, it is shrouded in mystery leading to exclusion, neglect and discrimination.
Research carried out by some organisations and individuals shows that some girls resort to using unhygienic alternatives such as newspapers, rags, leaves, tissue paper and cow dung, among others because they cannot afford sanitary pads or tampons.
Prices of basic commodities continue to skyrocket in shops and one would think that retailers are in some competition to have the highest prices of certain products.
Most families have been forced to do away with luxury items due to the prices madness which has also affected sanitary wear.
I remember at some point, one could get a pack of sanitary towels for just below a dollar but I have not seen a packet that costs less than $16 in recent weeks. Bearing in mind that when it was that one dollar, it was still beyond the reach of some women. I can only imagine the stress that women go through now as their menstrual days draw near. I think these are things that should be made available free of charge because nobody chose to be a woman first and menstruation is just a biological process and reality and not a choice.
Access to sanitary wear remains a huge challenge in Zimbabwe with many women resorting to unorthodox material during their menstrual cycles. Rural girls are the most affected and they miss out on school every month to attend to the process.
Many young girls and women develop rashes, infections and sometimes life-long reproductive health issues because they are forced to improvise and cannot afford sanitary products.
Legislator and renowned gender activist Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga recently said the issue of access to sanitary wear should be dealt with as a human rights concern.
“This is a human rights issue. If we think it’s important to give people food when there is hunger, I don’t understand why we don’t think of providing sanitary wear to women who can’t afford it. It is not a women’s issue only and I think that is where we have lost it, it must concern all of us because every man is born of a mother, has a sister, a daughter or a wife. So everyone must see the need to have sanitary wear being fully discussed on the table,” she said.
A survey done in 2014 indicates that 20 percent of girls miss school due to period pain while 62 percent miss school due to lack of pads and 26 percent stay home because of heavy flows during menstruation. — @andile_tshuma