End Period Poverty In Zimbabwe
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Economic conditions are worsening in Zimbabwe as prices of goods and services continue to skyrocket. More girls and women are failing to afford and access menstrual products, which are basic necessities; affecting their freedom to study, work, stay healthy or participate in society with dignity. Zimbabwe’s inflation has risen to 66.8% in March 2019 (although independent economists say its 208%), and it is projected to rise to an average of 73.4% this year, the highest in the African continent. The country’s economy is sliding into a serious recession this year, for the first time since 2009, and will record an economic dip of -5.2% according to the International Monetary Fund, which is the worst in Africa. It is now much more difficult for women and girls to afford period products such as sanitary wear, period pain relievers, underwear, soap, among others; with more underprivileged girls and women desperately resorting to unhygienic means.
Some 72% of menstruating school girls do not use sanitary pads because they do not afford them, according to a study by SNV Zimbabwe. The study also established that 62% of school girls in Zimbabwe miss school every month due to lack of sanitary wear; and 70 percent of these girls are not even aware of any sanitary pad brand on the market.
Girls and women who menstruate are more than 3 million in Zimbabwe and the majority of them do not have proper menstrual protection. Each month, their dignity and health is compromised when menstruating, because of period poverty. Some use unhygienic rags, cardboard, newspapers, tissues, socks, leaves, cow dung and other unsanitary means to try and manage their flows, which results in infections, leakages and discomfort.
The biggest obstacle to using a sanitary wear is affordability in Zimbabwe. Prices of goods and services have been going up sharply in Zimbabwe and menstrual products have not been spared. Zimbabwe’s inflation has risen from an average of -0.2 percent in 2014 to 66.8% in March 2019. The price of sanitary pads has risen from an average of $1 to $6 at the moment. The cost of living also rose substantially, with the monthly consumer basket for a family of six rising to $842 in January 2019 from $591 in January 2018. This in a country whereby many households survive on less than a dollar a day. Incidences of period poverty are therefore worsening in Zimbabwe; and sanitary products are now luxuries to millions of girls and women, especially the homeless who can barely afford to buy a decent meal.
Underprivileged girls who go to school bear the brunt of period poverty as they are unable to maintain a normal lifestyle because of their periods and they miss school for a number of days every month. The situation is worse in rural areas where many households live in abject poverty and survive on subsistence agriculture. For example, it was saddening to hear that a girl failed to write one of her Grade 7 exams because of her period. Period poverty is real and sanitary wear is not a luxury. Some girls may attend school without proper sanitary wear and pain relievers but their performance is affected by lack of concentration due to painful cramps and the worry of leaking.
A report by Plan International (Counting the Invisible: Girls’ rights and realities) established that 5% of Zimbabwean girls drop out of school because of menstruation; 14% due to pregnancy and 11 percent due to marriage. Some of these pregnancies and marriages are due to transactional sex whereby girls will be merely looking for money to buy sanitary wear. A Global Education Monitoring Report by UNESCO established that 1,5 million Zimbabwean children are out of school (primary, lower and upper secondary). The report said 12% of children don’t complete primary education, 27% don’t complete lower secondary and 87% don’t finish upper secondary. Even up to now, 44 percent of rural shops in Zimbabwe do not sell any sanitary products at all. Many girls therefore miss school every month during the days they will be on their periods.
A survey conducted on 10,000 women by Always has also established that women who have experienced period poverty are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, struggle to pay their bills and have unfulfilling love lives. Given the high levels of period poverty in Zimbabwe, it is imperative to urgently act to end period poverty to avert such adverse consequences.
Against the above background, we call for Zimbabwean authorities to:
1. Provide free sustainable sanitary products to all menstruating girls in primary and secondary school.
2. Put a subsidy on all menstrual products to make their price affordable and accessible to all women and girls.
3. Remove customs duty on all raw materials used to make sanitary wear and all bottlenecks that make it difficult for local producers to manufacture sanitary wear competitively.
4. Provide adequate foreign currency to producers of sanitary products to import adequate raw materials and to retailers who import sanitary wear.
5. Provide homeless girls and women with menstrual products and allow them unlimited access to public toilets.
6. Make public and school toilets female-friendly.
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