Girls can no longer afford to miss events of daily life because of period poverty

Consultations are underway, as the department of women, youth and persons with disabilities responds to a memorandum with over 35 000 signatures demanding for the provision of free sanitary products for students who menstruate.

Frustration shrouded the faces of several youth activists as they handed over their demands to the acting director general Shoki Shabalala and chief of staff Sipho Seakamela from the department of women, youth, and persons with disabilities in Pretoria.

The memorandum is read out to government officials in Pretoria Photo: Mpho Hlakudi

Shabalala said, “I commit that within the given timeline [15 days], we will provide a response, it may not be as detailed because the demands are quite many, but the commitment that we’re making is to engage with the various departments that were listed in the program that has a multifaceted response.” She encouraged activists to become members of the menstrual health coalition to help improve government efforts and address most of the issues effectively.

Shabalala’s 15 days come to an end on September 10, 2022, a deadline keenly being monitored by the activists from several organisations, including, Women’s Health by Fatima Kathrada and Cosas, who all joined the call for free sanitary pads through a peaceful walk from the union buildings to the Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities department.

The walk was jointly hosted by the Wits SRC’s deputy president, Lesego Louw and Team Free Sanitary Pads on August 26, 2022 under the hashtag, #ItsAboutBloodyTime. Louw said young women should no longer ask for permission to have dignity, attend school, and be comfortable with menstruating.

“We have all gone through not understanding what is happening with our bodies because we’re not afforded the necessary education, and we don’t have the necessary access to products that we need” She said.

Their demands included that government legislates menstrual health and hygiene bill. It would align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and follow Scotland, which became the first country on August 15, 2022, to make sanitary products free.

Period poverty refers to young girls across South Africa not having access to menstrual and hygiene products during their monthly menstration.

Nokuzola Ndwandwe, menstrual health activist and founder of #TeamFreeSanitaryPads campaign, told Wits Vuvuzela that for the past 11 years, the government has not been acting swiftly in eradicating period poverty for young girls and women who cannot afford menstrual products.

Before submitting the memorandum, Candice Chirwa, a menstruation activist and academic, said, “We need to remove these negative expressions [used] when young girl[s] say, my first period was awkward.”

Chirwa said, “We cannot afford to have girls miss out on school. We cannot afford for menstruators to use unhygienic materials such as cow dung, leaves, sand, and newspapers so that they can go about their day-to-day activities.”

A similar march took place in Cape Town where around 80 people from Hanover Street in District Six to Parliament on August 26, 2022.

FEATURED IMAGE: #it’sAboutBloodyTime: Students march for free sanitary products in Pretoria. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi