The First Lady Madam Penehupifo Pohamba on Tuesday expressed her dissatisfaction over girls not completing their education or having their school days disrupted because of not having sanitary wear.
"In Namibia, the reality is that thousands of girls are not able to attend school for some days when they are menstruating," she said. She added that they fear asking money from their parents to buy sanitary towels and tampons for the matter is considered a taboo as it is deemed to be of a "sexual nature".
Pohamba was speaking at the launch of the Sani-Care Campaign, an initiative by Oxygen Communications that aims at providing young girls with sanitary pads to have the chance to feel confident and set their goals on education rather than worry about basic health and hygiene.
She said due to lack of money many girls are forced to either find "sugar daddies or they wear toilet tissue, newspaper strips and cloth until they realise they are not protected anymore".
"The risk of infection is therefore very high and detrimental to their health and well-being," said Pohamba.
She said the practice includes the shame associated with clothes becoming bloodstained, leading to many girls simply staying at home.
She added that this can lead to poor performance due to falling behind in their school work and possibly dropping out altogether.
"Imagine the impact this decision has on the legacy of a particular family," she said.
Pohamba said the affordability of sanitary pads is another challenge. Some African governments, she said, have imposed tax waivers on sanitary pads and some schools now purchase sanitary pads from their already limited development budget.
"The essence is that people in rural areas or impoverished areas now consider sanitary towels a luxury because they do not benefit the welfare of the families," she said. Oxygen Communications Managing Director, Hilda Basson-Namundjebo, said the Sani-Care Campaign's purpose is to encourage members of society to buy one or two pads during their normal monthly shopping and donate them to needy schoolgirls so that they remain in school for a better future.
She said the aim is to reach out to as many schoolgirls as possible. Basson-Namundjebo also encouraged other businesses to emulate the good example set by Pick n Pay that is already on board and has so far donated sanitary pads that will be distributed to girls from poor families.