16 February 2012

Zimbabwe: When Sanitary Wear Becomes a Luxury

SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Tinashe Magaya's parents struggle to feed their offspring and for things like sanitary pads and tampons are luxuries she can not dare ask for. She has devised a way of making her own sanitary pads using pieces of cloth during her menstruation.

"I tear my old clothes into small strips or use leftover material," said Tinashe, who lives with her family in the farming town of Chegutu, unaware of the danger she putting herself in.

"I don't have to use any money to buy anything. I roll the cloth into a pad then I insert it inside my genitals. I don't feel any pain. I can go the whole day like this without messing up myself.

"It's easy because I do not have to worry about cash or where and how to dispose the cloth. I can use one piece of cloth for months. I just wash it and make sure it is clean."

Fifteen-year-old Taonanyasha Shumba says she uses old newspapers instead of proper sanitary wear.

"I dampen the paper with water until it becomes soft then I tear it into in to smaller pieces that are suitable to inset," Taonanyasha explains.

"I cut a bigger piece which I use to wrap up the smaller piece inside and form my own pad.

"A dollar is too much for me. I'd rather use it for something else."

Taonanyasha says her twin sister also uses newspapers and finds them "quite affordable and usable."

In a country where the majority of the population lives on US$1 a day, things like sanitary wear are luxuries a few woman can't afford.

A packet of sanitary pads costs between US$2 and US$3, a price beyond many poor girls and women in a country where the average salary for a Government worker is US$250 while farm workers and housemaids earn between US$60 and US$120.

Many women resort to improvising with newspapers and pieces of cloth which are often not sanitised or disinfected, putting themselves at risk of diseases such as pelvic inflammatory and cervical cancer.

As a result, Zimbabwe may fail to achieve one of the Millennium Development Goals of improving healthcare for all.

Harare resident Mrs Angeline Machaya urged the Government and UN agencies to find ways to provide affordable sanitary wear to poor girls and women.

"I feel the Government has to take these issues seriously," Mrs Machaya said.

"Even other organisations such as Unicef, WHO and UNFPA should really work hard on the issue of sanitary wear."

Women's groups such as Girl Child Network and Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre Network as well as female lawmakers have been lobbying the Government to find ways to make cheaper sanitary wear available.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions once led a campaign to provide free sanitary pads to women.

To achieve the MDGs by 2015, African governments adopted a continental policy framework on sexual and reproductive health and rights to improve sexual and reproductive health as a contributor towards poverty reduction.

Ministers of health from across the continent met in Gaborone, Botswana, in 2005 to draft a policy framework which was endorsed by heads of state and government in January 2006 as the Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Maputo Plan of Action 2006.

The activities under the framework include integration of sexual and reproductive health services into primary health services, developing and promoting youth-friendly service and providing quality and safe motherhood and preventing unsafe abortions.

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