The following is a Budget Monitoring Report written by the Letters to Strangers+Zimbabwe team on period poverty policies in Zimbabwe. Though Letters to Strangers is a mental health organization, personal hygiene, human dignity, and gender equality are all important aspects of maintaining mental wellbeing. For this reason, we stand behind the recommendations and observations of the L2S+Zim team in this report and encourage future intersectional, collaborative efforts in alleviating issues such as period poverty in conjunction with mental health outreach and education.
In particular, L2S+Zim has implemented several workshops where participants learn how to sew reusable pads and other sanitary/hygiene materials while being educated about mental health from a trained peer. This dual and simultaneous approach to health education has increased the interest of community members in partaking in workshops and prevented their minds from wondering during mental health education by keeping their hands busy.
Last but not least, we want to recognize that not all those who menstruate identify as female, and not all who identify as female menstruate. In this report, the term "girls" and "women" are used to refer to menstruators given the criminalization of LGTBQ+ identity in Zimbabwe, which makes it difficult if not impossible to seek out non-binary and/or transgender menstruators for reporting purposes.
- Letters to Strangers HQ
November 17th, 2020
Budget Tracking Investigation Mutare Rural, Chimanimani, Chipinge, Buhera, Nyanga, Mutasa and Makoni District on Free Sanitary Pads for Rural Schools
“In November 2019, Finance Min Ncube budgeted ZWL $200 million for sanitary pads for rural schoolgirls in Forms 4 through Upper 6, starting from January”
Management of menstruation can present substantial challenges to girls in low-income settings, especially at schools. In preparation for a menstrual hygiene intervention to reduce school absenteeism in Manicaland, the Zimbabwean government sought to provide girls with sanitary pads in schools. This report seeks to investigate these efforts and learn the experiences of menstrual hygiene management in rural schools of Manicaland from the perspectives of rural schoolgirls.
Background of the menstrual hygiene challenges faced by girls in Zimbabwe
In many schools, period poverty is an important yet often ignored public health crisis. Period poverty refers to the prevalent phenomenon of being unable to afford products such as pads, tampons, or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. In lieu of sanitary products, many schoolgirls in Zimbabwe are forced to use items like rags, paper towels, toilet paper, or cardboard, and others rationed sanitary products by using them for extended amounts of time.
Girls in schools require an environment that is supportive of menstrual hygiene management in order to ensure regular school attendance and participation, yet little is known about schoolgirls' access to and practice of menstrual hygiene management in Zimbabwe, particularly in rural areas of Manicaland province. Most girls do not have access to sanitary products and are unable to afford such products due to high costs. So, they mostly rely on cloth, which they wash and use again. As such, some girls in the rural areas prefer not to attend school during their periods, which translates to a huge percent of her schooling annually thus gone. Eventually, poor sanitation in schools and lack of access to good quality sanitary products can be associated with lower enrolment in schools, absenteeism, and dropout. The use of unhygienic cloth can potentially have health consequences such as increased risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections, leading to the danger of contracting cancer and other illnesses. Therefore, society's negative attitudes about the issue and being inattentive to the menstrual problem are placing considerable physical and psychological burdens on young girls as most of them have fear of being mocked during their periods.
Objectives of the study
To measure the level of achieved progress according to the statement that the government assured young women in terms of availability of sanitary pads in schools
To monitor how the sanitary pads were distributed amongst schools
To observe the methods that girls are using during their menstrual periods
The research was conducted in different rural districts of Manicaland Province. Prior to initiating the research, the organisation (L2S+Zim) gave some questionnaires to different focal persons in each district for them to answer in regards to the government‘s distribution of pads to rural schools. Through those focal persons, a cross-sectional research was conducted at schools among all consenting students in Forms 4 and 6 attending school. The questionnaires were administered using social media platforms through the community-monitoring agents with a facilitator present to guide students through the questions.
The majority of schools in Manicaland have failed to sign up to the government scheme to provide free sanitary products, despite teachers warning about how menstrual period poverty in the rural areas has soared in the wake of the economic crisis of Zimbabwe. Minister of Finance Ncube announced in the spring of last year that a budget of ZWL$200 million was set aside so that girls in rural secondary schools would be given free sanitary products from early 2020 onwards, but the government is failing to properly alert schools to the programme as many schools have not received any sanitary pads besides those donated by well-wishers and Non-Governmental Organisations. In most rural areas of Manicaland province, they have not received any information concerning sanitary wear. Worse still, toiletries such as tissue paper and soaps are also in low availability except of the cotton wool which they last received way back.
Most students and head teachers alluded that it should be made mandatory and enshrined in the legislation that schools must have access to sanitary pads and other menstrual products, because the government clearly has not done enough to promote the plan of action among schools, as some schools simply are not aware that the plan even exists, leaving questions on how the money was used or did the government purchase the sanitary pads in the first place. Hence, many girls were said to be vulnerable to diseases due to use of unhygienic materials. Thus, as once declared in the national budget, the government should ensure that sanitary pads are accessible to every girl child in schools, the same way birth control pills are to women because, meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health as well as achieving gender equality.
Meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health as well as achieving gender equality.
Importance of providing menstrual material in schools
In a society where girls are taught to hide their period, working to end menstrual stigma is very important to achieve menstrual equity. Sanitary pad provisions are vital in improving the attendance of girls to school, and even in the absence of resources, sanitary pads must be provided so as to address psychosocial wellbeing, dignity, comfort, and ability to manage menstruation without shame. Moreover, It does not only makes it easier for girls to manage their periods and focus their attention on classwork, but it signals to young women that their needs matter and that their period is an important part of being healthy and all things that contribute to a better learning experience thus. The government of Zimbabwe should be aware that for girls, menstrual products are necessities, not luxuries, and that periods should be embraced, not feared.
One of the major reasons why it is important for the government to provide schools with menstrual supplies is because, for many, periods can come unexpectedly. Therefore, if pads are readily available, it is easy for a girl child to access them without messing up their school uniforms, which would otherwise lead to a huge embarrassment. Thus, providing free tampons and pads to students is a small price to pay to keep girls in class.
Ways to help young girls
In response to moving from period poverty to period positivity in schools, the government has to take a proactive approach to tackling the issue, which can be as follows:
Policy Implementation - Passing a law that will make sanitary products free in secondary schools and colleges, especially in the rural areas. There is also a need for organisations to unite and form a collective approach with amplified voices about menstruation with all stakeholders like Minister of Health, Education, and Youth so that they urge the government to come up with policies that promote and enhance hygienic menstruation process in a holistic manner.
Education about menstruation - Adding reproductive health education to the school curriculum, which will educate the girls on the effects of using unhygienic material during menstrual period. Education about menstruation should be introduced at an early age in schools so that illiberal norms regarding menstruation are challenged and the appropriate information will be passed down to these children.