Menstrual Hygiene Must Become a Matter of Public Concern in Zimbabwe

The neglect of menstruation and its implications for the dignity, health and safety of women is increasingly well documented and urgently needs attention.
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Menstrual hygiene remains a taboo subject in Zimbabwean society. It is therefore a sad day when the issue of menstruation becomes a public concern. It shows the level of poverty and dehumanization Zimbabweans have undergone over the years. OnJuly 16, 2014 Newsday published an article titled "Sanitary Wear: Poor Girls Resort To Dung." The article highlighted that due to expenses that come with sanitary wear in Zimbabwe, many girls have failed to keep menstruation a private matter after soiling their clothes because they have no means to buy the most basic sanitary wear such as cotton wool and pads. Not only is proper sanitary wear effective in preventing leakages of blood while menstruating, but it also prevents the odors that accompany menstruation and prevents infections.

Hearing about cow dung and maize cobs being used for menstruation management in this day and age is shocking. Adequate basic sanitary wear and pads should be available to allow girls to attend school instead of hiding at home as they fear the consequences of attending classes with the risk of their menstruation cycle being exposed. Sanitary wear of the highest quality must be available for girls to be able to play netball and engage in sport at school. However, the high cost of sanitary pads continues to hamper effective menstruation management by women and girls. For one to import sanitary wear into the country he or she needs to pay Zimbabwe Revenue Authority 20 percent duty and 15 percent value-added tax, resulting in sanitary-wear products becoming unaffordable. Therefore, there is need for the government to strategize ways in which sanitary wear can be made cheaper and more accessible especially for the young girls without any means.

Proper management of menstruation also requires availability of water. Women use more water in their day-to-day activities. It is strange however that water, sanitation and hygiene services ignore the needs of half the population that menstruate on an average for 3,000 days over their lifetime. Women face challenges that include water cuts and unavailability of water in some areas. There is also a need to have private space for washing and cleaning the body. Further facilities for proper disposal of used materials are necessary for women to manage this biological function with safety and dignity. Management of menstruation is also compromised by the lack of proper facilities in rural areas. Most latrines have no doors, compromising safety and privacy for women and girls. Girls then sometimes go to toilets in groups to provide protective cover, losing time in class. There are no indoor hand-wash basins in these toilets and no privacy to deal with accidents that occur. Some of the toilets have squat holes that are not comfortable to use.

It is interesting that there are various conventions and linked action plans that elaborate on women's sexual and reproductive rights but stop short of explicitly naming menstruation as one of the most stigmatized, silent and socially-constructed silent curses that plagues a third of the world's population, especially in the developing world. The recognition of difference and diversity is fundamental to guaranteeing the enjoyment of full human rights. Menstruation is the natural monthly occurrence in healthy adolescent girls with the onset occurring anytime between the ages of 8 and 16 and pre-menopausal adult women, resulting in about 3,000 days of a menstruation in an average woman's lifetime. The neglect of menstruation and its implications for the dignity, health and safety of women is increasingly well documented and urgently needs attention.

Editor's note: Because of the overwhelming number of readers who have reached out asking how they can help, we have added a list of non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the situation: