A girl's ba­sic needs must be a pri­or­ity

NGO dreams of a word in which teens won't miss school

Sunday World - - News - NONKU­L­ULEKO KHU­MALO ! " ###

WOMEN across Africa have strug­gled to get ac­cess to san­i­tary tow­els for many decades.

Teens across the con­ti­nent miss at least 12 weeks of school ev­ery year be­cause they don’t have san­i­tary tow­els, and are left with no other al­ter­na­tive but to stay away school. In a world that seems to have much big­ger prob­lems” to deal with, pro­vid­ing a ba­sic need such as san­i­tary pads for young girls is not high on the list of pri­or­i­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics South Africa, there are 4-mil­lion girls in no-fee schools in the coun­try. This fig­ure doesn’t in­clude other dis­ad­van­taged girls.

So, an es­ti­mated 6-mil­lion girls in the coun­try have to use news­pa­pers, twigs and pieces of cloth as an al­ter­na­tive to san­i­tary pads things that make them sus­cep­ti­ble to in­fec­tions.

Dig­nity Dreams, a Pre­to­ria-based NGO, re­cently in­tro­duced re­us­able san­i­tary tow­els which it is dis­tribut­ing at no-fee schools in the nine prov­inces.

Dig­nity Dreams’ San­dra Mil­lar said the idea came from want­ing to pro­vide the girls with some­thing sus­tain­able.

The re­us­able pads last between three and five years.

The price of san­i­tary tow­els is un­rea­son­able. Us mid­dle-class peo­ple don’t think much about buy­ing them, but if you don’t even have food to put on the ta­ble, the last thing you are con­cerned about is san­i­tary pads,” she said.

The re­us­able pads are made from dou­ble tow­elling, plas­tic and poly­cot­ton. They can be washed with soap and soaked with coarse salt to soften them.

One of the ma­jor is­sues the NGO has had to deal with is lack of ed­u­ca­tion when it comes to this ba­sic hy­giene mat­ter.

Ed­u­cat­ing girls on the changes their bod­ies go through is still im­per­a­tive.

Th­ese girls don’t know what be­ing on their pe­ri­ods means. They sit at home and are ashamed of what is hap­pen­ing to their bod­ies. They think they have done some­thing wrong. They need to be taught that having their pe­ri­ods means that they are fer­tile,” said Mil­lar.

About 4-mil­lion packs made up of one colour­ful draw­string poly­cot­ton bag, six wash­able ab­sorbent pads, three pairs of panties and an in­struc­tion sheet have been handed out to school­girls this year.

We start with 10-year-olds be­cause, ideally, a girl’s first ex­pe­ri­ence should be with our packs,” Mil­lar said.

Dig­nity Dreams also aims to help stu­dents, work­ing moth­ers, care­givers, moth­ers who have re­cently given birth and frail, el­derly women.

This still does not sig­nal a vic­tory, but it is a step closer to end­ing the war against women’s fem­i­nin­ity.

It is, how­ever, still shock­ing that san­i­tary prod­ucts can­not be made freely avail­able as the gov­ern­ment has done with con­doms, for ex­am­ple, con­sid­er­ing that they are a ba­sic need.

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