Menstrual Hygiene Day seeks to end more than just period poverty
28 May every year is dedicated to Menstrual Hygiene Day. A day that aims to bring together government, non-governmental organisations, individuals, the private sector, civil society as well as the media to promote good menstrual health and hygiene management, and break stigmas that exist around women and young girls experiencing their menstrual cycle.
While period poverty refers to lack of financial means to access sanitary products, the term is particularly poignant in South Africa where girls and women face stigma from menarche to menopause.
Every day 300 million women and girls around the world menstruate. A seemingly natural occurrence is turned into a nightmare for millions of women and girls through persistent taboos and stigma, lack of access to menstrual products and proper sanitation, as well as lack of education on managing their menstrual cycle.
Menstrual Hygiene Day aims to break the silence around menstruation that results in millions of women and girls having to hide, miss school and work, and be ostracised from their families. The day is also used to lobby governments and civil society to promote good menstrual health and hygiene management by responding to the myriad of factors that contribute to women and girls placing themselves at risk during their menstrual cycle.
Government has introduced a number of interventions to ensure that indigent women and girls are able to manage their menstrual cycle with dignity. In October 2018 the Minister of Finance announced the provision of free sanitary products to school-girls in non-fee paying schools. In the 2019/2020 budget, National Treasury made available R157 million to provide free sanitary pads to quintile 1-3 schools across the provinces of the country.
In January 2019 The National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS) decision to allocate R275 per month to students for personal care was hailed as a victory for Women’s Rights in South Africa.
The allowance, disbursed to nearly 800 000 students, for incidental or personal care needs will most certainly be used for personal hygiene as well as sanitary products. This allocation takes into account the whole life of the student, who comes from an economically poor background, and offers support to both young men and women to take care of their personal hygiene requirements.
The Department of Women with their mandate of the advancement of women’s socio-economic empowerment and the promotion of gender equality continues to champion the Sanitary Dignity Programme to provide free sanitary products to indigent women and girls in quintiles 1-3 schools. This Programme is guided by the National Sanitary Dignity Implementation Framework (SDIF). The SDIF has been drafted by The Department of Women and other stakeholders and researched by DOW to further enhance the framework and implementation plan. The aim of the SDIF is to promote sanitary dignity and to provide norms and standards in respect of the provision of sanitary products to indigent persons. It furthermore seeks to promote social justice and emphasises the basic human rights of indigent persons.
The department held its national launch in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga on 28 February 2019. On 13 April 2019 the department launched the programme in Makana, Eastern Cape. On 03 May 2019, the programme was launched in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
The affordability of sanitary products for women to manage their menstrual cycle has always been an area of concern for the department. Lobbying by The Department of Women as well as civil society organisations yielded positive results when The Minister of Finance announced at the medium term budget policy statement (MTBPS) speech in October 2018 that sanitary pads would be zero-VAT rated from 01 April 2019.
Globally, girls and young women are forced to miss school and classes at tertiary institutions due to a lack of sanitary towels. This monthly pattern of missing out on education has devastating long term effects, not only in terms of educational development, but also on the psyche of young women. Young women make up 56% of beneficiaries of the NSFAS Programme who benefit from the personal allowance allocation.
“One must remember that a young woman from a poor home at a tertiary institution faces segregation on many fronts. This young woman is often ostracised from groups who are better off financially. She is also excluded from social activities and is unable to participate in the full social life of the tertiary institution as she is unable to afford club fees, or equipment to participate fully in sports. For these young women to also miss out on classes due to their inability to afford sanitary towels is an indignity that must be corrected,” said Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women, Bathabile Dlamini.
As the world recognises Menstrual Hygiene Day the department continues to stress that sexual and reproductive health and rights education is a critical step in ensuring that girls are prepared for the changes their bodies are going through. The provision of free sanitary products needs to be supported by education and awareness campaigns to address and change unhealthy menstrual practices, messages and behaviours. Age-appropriate social and behavioural change communication is crucial to address inequity in sanitary dignity in the country.
On 28 May 2019 the department will bring together provincial departments, civil society, private sector and non-governmental organisations from across the country involved in the roll out of the Sanitary Dignity Programme. The indaba will share best practices, lessons learnt, challenges and opportunities experienced during the roll out of the programme in provinces.
“The issue of women and girls being able to manage their menstrual cycle with dignity is a human rights issue. Part of restoring this dignity is to break the stigma that exists around menstruation by ending the silence, through education, advocacy and awareness campaigns.
This must be a joint effort of government. Infrastructure enablers like water supply, sanitation, handwashing facility, toilet paper and an environmentally safe and hygienic disposal system are all necessary for the implementation of the SDIF. Media organisations and civil society organisations must play their part by educating communities on menstruation and make it less of a taboo,” added Minister Dlamini.
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