Amnesty International Wits says the lack of sanitary products has a negative effect on the participation of women and girls in society.

Women and girls need access to free sanitary products and education on menstruation management in order to fairly participate in society. This was the message that was emphasised at the Amnesty International (AI) Wits panel discussion, on Friday, August 17.

The discussion, titled ‘Bloody Fed Up’, informed the small crowd gathered at Wits’ Umthombo Building about the ways in which being unable to access sanitary products places women and girls at a disadvantage, especially in schools.

On the panel were Olwethu Letshabane, founder of the Red Wings Project and female sanitation advocate, Candice Chirwa, a gender activist who is currently doing masters in International Relations on menstrual health management, and Malesedi Guambe, a second-year BA student and an AI human rights defender.

Chirwa argued that the state was not sufficiently prioritising menstruation. “The role of the state should be to provide access to free pads, clean and separate menstruation facilities to clean and dispose of sanitary products, as well as training in menstrual health,” she said.

Letshabane said that she joined the call for access to sanitary products as a result of her own ignorance on the challeneges of menstruation while she was still in university. She found that finances were not the only barrier to her gaining education.

Assisting to make sanitary products more accessible is in the small things, she added. “It’s simple things like offering your domestic worker a packet of pads. They get paid minimum wages. If she has to choose between a R40 packet of pads and a R40 sack of pap, the pap will most likely win.”

The panelists also highlighted that access to sanitary products hinders school attendance as there is a lot of shame surrounding periods.

“I remember being in high school and boys were laughing at a friend who was bleeding through her uniform,” Guambe said.

A study conducted by Always Ultra found that 58% of South African teen girls had hit a low point in their confidence when they had their first period.

AI Wits chairperson Haafizah Bhamjee told Wits Vuvuzela that although the organisation had been campaigning for free pads, they felt that it wasn’t enough.

“We were missing on educating the people about the cause, to open people’s eyes on the issue. That’s why we thought it was important to have the discussion,” Bhamjee said.

Gabrielle Matthews, a first-year BA Law student who attended the discussion said it was enlightening.

“The discussion really showed how grave the issue is. However, there could’ve been more concrete solutions on what can be done,” she said.

Chirwa said that menstruation shouldn’t be a traumatic event for young girls and that society needs to remove the stigma around periods.

“Periods are not a burden but a celebratory event, a pathway towards womanhood,” Chirwa said.

FEATURED IMAGE: The panel in discussion.Left to right: Malesedi Guambe, Candice Chirwa and Olwethu Letshabane.                                                                                                                             Photo: Provided