The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe)
Touching lives of Zimbabwean girls
IT IS inconceivable how a seemingly simple object such as a sanitary pad, taken for granted more often than not, can significantly impact the lives of so many young women.
In Zimbabwe, more than 62 percent of rural girls do not have access to sanitary pads as proper sanitation is expensive and they end up adopting unhygienic alternatives such as newspapers, rags, leaves, bark and sometimes cow dung.
However, in a twist of fate, thousands of underprivileged girls from Harare, Mvurwi, Gweru, Mutare, Beitbridge, Masvingo, Caledonia and Chihota; have received sanitary pads from 2015 to date under the #half-a-million-pads and Touching Lives campaigns.
The campaigns which are spearheaded by Girls R Us and Touching Lives have seen over 4 400 vulnerable women and girls receiving pads each month with more than 31 334 pads distributed to date.
Rabison Shumba, founder of Touching Lives, said their target is to reach at least 3 000 girls in the first half of 2017 and to make the initiative sustainable by not only giving out pads but teaching communities how to make their own pad versions; in the long-term empowering women to be able to take care of their own needs.
“It has become common knowledge that one of the key issues facing the girl child today is access to sanitary wear.
“The target beneficiaries are vulnerable women with a special focus on young girls who have resorted to unhealthy options which when you hear of, you cringe,” he said.
Girls R Us’ founder and director, Sandra Moyo, said this year they will monitor and evaluate the progress they have made within their areas of focus which includes Mhondoro, Chihota, Bulawayo, Harare, Chegutu, Murehwa, Mvurwi and Madziva.
They hope to reach over 20 000 girls by end of 2018.
“Our targets for 2017 is to continue in our areas of focus so as to monitor and evaluate the progress and impact we are making. We, however, with the #half-a-million-pads campaign, seek to reach over 20 000 girls with sanitary wear, soap and educational material in the next two years,” she said.
Usually, women require sanitary pads each month and the assumption is that when an organisation donates pads, it is a once-off thing, but for Touching Lives, the aim is to constantly provide.
“These campaigns are meant to be lifelong as there will always be a need out there. Every woman faces this monthly unless they have reached menopause or fall pregnant. This, therefore, cannot be a once-off campaign,” Mr Shumba said.
The responsibility to raise the girl child lies in everybody’s hands and Ms Moyo believes women’s issues should not be looked at in isolation.
“About 62 percent of rural girls do not have access to sanitary pads and use unhygienic methods, hence everyone is responsible for raising the girl child and the issues she faces cannot be looked at in isolation,” said Moyo.
Founder and executive director of ZiMwana Worldwide group, Mrs Rumbidzai Kamba, said the responses they have been getting from women and girls who have benefitted from these various pad campaigns has been positive with various infections on the decline from the use of unhygienic material.
“The materials that most of these girls were using were infecting them because of where they were placed, that area is very sensitive.
“Now infections are less because of the pads being provided to them,” she said.
Mrs Kamba added that in Caledonia, where girls received pads for three months, recorded better relationships with their families because there was no need to wash and dry their materials within their homes. Self-esteem levels has also improved.
“Relationships have improved in the homes and many are now actually coming through and asking for more whilst others ask when next we are going to visit,” she said.
The issue, according to Mrs Kamba, is more medical as the use of unhygienic material comes with infections and pelvic abdominal pains.
When it comes to male-headed homes, sanitary wear is hardly prioritised with the focus of family budgets being on food and other items considered important.
Periods are often wrongly referred to as a “women’s issue”, and discussed exclusively amongst women, thereby making it immensely difficult to have any kind of national conversation around the issue that affects a significant portion of the population.
“We cannot continue to pretend that all is well with the women and as long as you have a sister, daughter, mother and cousin; they face this challenge and it would be unwise to leave them to struggle when we live with them,” said Mr Shumba.
A lot of underprivileged girls miss school monthly when they have their periods and if a girl is absent for three days of school a month, it equates to a considerable amount of time away from school per year.
According to Unicef, one in 10 school-going girls in Africa misses school or drops out altogether because of her monthly period.