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By Hannah Chibayambuya

Millions of South African school girls have to contend with their monthly periods without having any access to sanitary products. Making their lives even more difficult, is the prevalence of stigmas which only worsen period poverty – a huge problem in our country.
Up to seven million girls do not have access or cannot afford to buy sanitary products. Although no official statistics are available, it is estimated that 30% of South African girls do not attend school while they have their period. Not having access to these products often leads to ridicule from their peers, further perpetuating the stigma around menstrual cycles.
These stigmas manifest themselves when females are taught about their periods. Women are often told to keep their cycle a secret, or that they are unclean during this time.
Some of these myths go as far as preventing young girls from participating in prayer or being kept in isolation.
In many South African cultures, virginity is at the forefront of purity and marriage. Many believe that inserting anything into the vaginal channel is equivalent to breaking one’s virginity.
As a result, the majority of young girls don’t know what’s available to make their lives easier. There are various types of sanitary products like pads, tampons, reusable pads and menstrual cups and discs. The go-to sanitary pad might not always be the best option for children who have to walk home. Menstrual cups and discs are better options since these products can last up to 12 hours without changing. They also need minimal water to keep them hygienic.

‘Mindsets need to change’
Candice Chirwa, also known as the minister of menstruation on Twitter, said she believes that the idea of marriage being the ultimate aspiration of a women’s life, needs to change. “Tying a period product into that whole notion is so heavy, especially because there’s a lot of anxiety among women. They begin to think: ‘I should probably use this product since it doesn’t affect my chances of getting married’. I always tell them that this menstrual cup or tampon won’t break your virginity,” said Chirwa.
These myths are setting back the period poverty movement.
Zaakira Mahomed, the founder of the Mina Cup Foundation, said she knew that these were challenges that she would face.
“When I did my research, I wondered how I’d be able to change the minds of our elders. I told them that losing one’s virginity means having sex and that managing one’s period by using a tampon or menstrual cup has nothing to do with it,” said Mahomed.

Organisations doing their bit
Period poverty remains a problem in South Africa, but there is hope. Many organisations are using their platforms to increase access to sanitary products.
They are also aiming to reduce the stigma surrounding periods through education like Qrate ZA. This Johannesburg-based organisation focuses on “curating critical thinking in young people through educational publications and workshops on social topics”.
They run menstruation workshops at schools with an emphasis on education about mental health, menstruation and masculinity, as well as hygiene. The Mina Cup Foundation, meanwhile, donates a menstrual cup to an underprivileged girl for every cup purchased.
As of 1 April 2019, sanitary pads became a bit more affordable when value-added tax (VAT) was scrapped from sanitary pad purchases. Efforts like these and the good work being done by organisations will bring us one step closer to ending period poverty in South Africa. – Health-e News

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