Sanitary Pads For School Girls

Update posted by Mbuso Bulose On May 04, 2017


High cost of sanitary pads puts South African girls’ education at risk


In Africa, the decision whether to buy a loaf of bread to satiate a grumbling stomach, or a sanitary pad to manage a young girl’s period is commonly made amongst households struggling to survive. And more often than not, the stomach wins.

Sive Ncanyawa, a 15 year-old schoolgirl from Europe, an informal settlement in Gugulethu, Cape Town cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. She is forced to use unhygienic methods to manage her menstruation cycle and will often miss out on school when her flow is heavier.

“When we do not have money to buy sanitary pads, I take my old clothes, tear them up and use them instead,” she says.

For a young woman attending a mixed gender school, she feels embarrassed when her menstrual cycle arrives unexpectedly. And says Sive, she has been teased by her friends for period-related mishaps.

“I feel sad when my friends make fun of me,” she says. “I stay at home then I must catch up on work.”

There are currently seven million girls in South Africa between the ages of 13 and 19 who cannot afford to buy sanitary pads or tampons, according to the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

This problem has far reaching effects on their daily lives. According to a report published by the DBE in 2011, one in 10 school-going Africans don’t attend school while menstruating.

According to the same report, girls who are unable to buy sanitary pads miss on average four days of school a month. This means that girls can miss up to seven months of education during secondary school.

Judith Makasi, Deputy principal at Gugulethu Comprehensive Secondary School told Sonke that not being able to access sanitary pads, leads to a decline in students’ attendance and affects the participation of girls in class because they feel uncomfortable. Sive agrees, saying she is unable to listen to her teachers or complete her schoolwork while menstruating.

As well as affecting the schooling of girls like Sive, the use of alternative sanitary towels such as rags or newspapers, could also affect the their health as poor hygiene can increase susceptibility to infection.

Trainer at Sonke Gender Justice Thulani Velebayi says: “The root cause of this problem is poverty. When having to make the choice between buying food or sanitary pads, girls will frequently chose food.”

And the lack of a supportive family unit doesn’t help, adds Judith, who says parents are often absent. “We often see child-headed homes. Or students might live with their grandparents, aunts and uncles and this gives rise to other issues. For example some children receive government grants but the money is not spent on their needs,” she says.

To address the issue of a lack of sanitary towels in impoverished areas, Susan Barnes, the founder of Project Dignity, has developed reusable sanitary pads called Subz that can be distributed among girls in schools throughout South Africa. Subz are comprised of a pad and pantie duo, which are washable and can be re-used. The panties are made of 100 percent cotton, the pads from five layers of hydrophilic fabric, which wicks moisture away from the body.

These pads can last a girl up to five years. Susan and her colleagues also educate young women on personal hygiene, HIV and Aids and the menstrual cycle.

“To date we have donated 65 000 packs of the panties and pads to needy schools in South Africa,” said Susan. The company has won several awards, including the Clarins Most Dynamic Woman Award, the SAB Social Innovation Award and the Greenovation Award.

In addition to the educating young girls on personal hygiene, Thulani and the Sonke team engage boys about puberty and how to respect women undergoing these changes. “We engage boys and girls on the importance of understanding the differences in puberty between the sexes and promoting gender equality among them.”

On receiving her menstruation pack Sive said: “I think that people must sponsor pads to schools who can not afford it. I feel that the price of pads in shops must also be less.”

Watch the video here.

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Update posted by Mbuso Bulose On May 04, 2017

Fight to keep young girls at school

Entering womanhood should be a time of joy and natural development. Unfortunately too many young girls face this phase of their lives in shame and pain as they have no idea what is happening to their bodies, writes Gabi Khumalo.

According to research, girls who cannot afford sanitary products miss approximately five days of school a month during their monthly cycles, and this amounts to 60 missed school days.

The lack of affordable sanitary products for girls and young women places them at a disadvantage in terms of education when they are young and prevents their mobility and productivity as young women.

Without sanitary products, girls are excluded from their right to education as stipulated by the Constitution of South Africa.

This was among the startling reasons that Dignity Dreams was born, a non-profit organisation that provides washable, reusable sanitary towels to girls, especially in rural areas. This helps to keep them at school during their monthly menstruation.

Speaking to SAnews, founder of Dignity Dreams, Sandra Miller says the idea of Dignity Dreams came about in 2013 when she was doing a fundraising in White River, Mpumalanga. She met 20 girls aged between 10 and 12 with an aim of getting a better understanding of their needs.

“They want to become doctors, lawyers, engineers etc. To them their poverty was not going to prevent them from dreaming big. When I asked them to tell me about their boyfriends, I expected fairly innocent responses and was heartbroken when I heard about their sexual experiences, which borders on abuse.

“I then asked if they prefer sanitary towels or tampons, but not one girl had ever seen a sanitary towel or tampon, they use socks, rags, old towels and even school notebook paper. I was determined to solve this problem and hence Dignity Dreams was born,” Miller recalls.

Dignity Dreams Nelson Mandela Day Campaign

As part of the Mandela Day campaign, the Dignity Dreams, supported by the Nelson Mandela Foundation launched a campaign in May, where they set a goal of securing funding and distributing 18 000 dignity packs to underprivileged girls in rural schools.

The products are South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) approved and require minimal water for washing. Unlike disposable sanitary pads, the reusable pads can last for a period of five years and they are also designed to promote environmental sustainability.

The campaign is supported by the Office of the Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Buti Manamela, the National Youth Development Agency, as well as various corporates and the general public.

Miller says making corporate South Africa and the general public aware of the problem and the fact that reusable sanitary towels is a hygienic, environmentally friendly and cheaper alternative was very tough.

“It’s a problem that many people are unaware of and feel uncomfortable talking about. For this reason we had our pads’ absorbency SABS approved – and that’s how we slowly got ‘buy-in’ from corporates, foundations, trusts and the public,” says Miller.

She notes that disposable sanitary towels do not solve the problem as they can only be used once and also clog up toilets and landfills, while the Dignity Dreams packs last up to five years.

She is also confident that they will reach their target by the end of July as they’ve worked very hard to raise awareness.

By 9 July, enough money had been raised for about 14 000 products.

“We eventually felt that we are making a real breakthrough. We have no doubt that we will reach our target by the end of July and then we must work hard to keep the momentum going because there are over four million primary school girls who have never, ever had sanitary towels.”

Girls at risk

Apart from handing out feminine packs, the Dignity Dreams team also give talks to young girls about menstrual health. They go with a social worker, who can spot ‘girls at risk’ and do a proper professional intervention.

“Many fall pregnant because they don’t know they are fertile once their periods start.”

The team is prepared to work hard to ensure that at least 500 000 girls receive Dignity Dreams packs every year.

“We have also given 15 previously unemployed women the opportunity to run their own micro-businesses. We pay them for every pad they sew,” adds Miller.

Deputy Minister Manamela says when he met Miller and Dignity Dreams team, he learned about the valuable work that the organisation was doing.

“I visited the facility where the dignity packs are manufactured and also participated in events where the dignity packs were distributed to young girls in schools.

Not a women issue alone

Deputy Minister Manamela says he was often asked why he was addressing a “women issue” as a young man.

“Brushing aside the stereotypes associated with the question, I have repeatedly pointed out that this is not a ‘women issue’, it’s an education issue as well as a key global development issue. Every girl in South Africa deserves access to safe and hygienic sanitary products.

“Our goal is to help girls and young women reclaim the dignity that poverty denies them and enable them to make a lasting and positive impact on the communities they live in and society as a whole,” he says.

Deputy Minister Manamela believes having access to hygienic sanitary products, young girls will be able to complete high school, will be less likely to get HIV and Aids or fall pregnant before 18 and will likely earn higher wages and successfully educate their own children.

He appeals to corporate South Africa, civil society and individuals to put heads, hands and hearts together by supporting Dignity Dreams in their Nelson Mandela campaign to raise funds to distribute 18 000 dignity packs.

“Let’s keep our young women in school. Your support is needed, every bit helps, let’s play our part.”

NYDA Chairperson, Yershen Pillay says: “When you are a young girl, missing out on quality time is not a small issue. We have to play a role in creating awareness and ensure that young girls are in school”.

The NYDA recently sponsored R200 000 towards the goal of 18 000 dignity packs. The amount will assist to purchase 1 430 sanitary towels.

Ways that people can donate, by credit card or EFT (details on Dignity Dreams website) or sms “DIGNITY” to 40287 – R20.00 donation.

They can also visit the Dignity Dreams Office at 36 Florence Road, Colbyn, Pretoria. –

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Mbuso Bulose

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