By KAPALA CHISUNKA
â€œALTHOUGH, it is considered taboo to discuss in public, menstruation is a natural process for women and girls. Unfortunately, for those in rural areas, it is almost a bad omen as with it, comes a lot of challenges,â€ Lungowe Mubita said.
Lungowe, 20, is no stranger to the problems that many young women and girls in rural areas experience. As a peer educator with the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) in Kaoma district, Lungowe has been listening to the girlsâ€™ problems concerning the lack of affordable sanitary protection since 2012.
Lungowe said many girls in schools in rural communities lack access to affordable and hygienic sanitary protection which causes them to skip school at least four to five days each month when they are menstruating.
She said many of the girls in rural communities come from poor families and as such buying proper and hygienic sanitary towels is considered a luxury. She many opted to use rags, old clothes, toilet paper, cloths or pieces of chitenge material.
Unfortunately, because these are not really comfortable, many girls simply opt to stay home and save the embarrassment of messing themselves.
â€œI do not know how grave this problem is among girls here in Kaoma until I became peer educator with YWCA. I conduct what is known as Safe space meetings in communities and schools,â€ she said.
Lungowe explained Safe Space Meetings are gatherings where they talk about issues ranging from sexual reproductive health and rights, Gender Basic Violence, HIV and AIDS, goal setting and creative thinking. Each Safe Space Meeting has 25 girls who are registered in a particular school and community.
â€œDuring our meetings, I began to notice that there would be three or four girls missing at the same time. This went on for a while. I began to monitor the register as well. I began to inquire from the girls and they told me that the reason the stay away from school and the meeting at a particular time in a month was because they were menstruating,â€ she said.
She said the girls explained that they did not have money to spend on proper and hygienic disposal sanitary towels and as such preferred to stay away from school and other activities all together.
Burdened with the issue, Lungowe informed her Coordinator at YWCA about the problems she had discovered with the girls. The coordinator advised her to discuss with them about using alternative sanitary towels such as old clothes and chitenge.
â€œI went back to my girls and informed them about using pieces of old cloths but they said use old cloths. But because they want to avoid embarrassing situations which may occur with using such, they preferred being confined at their homes. I felt bad. I was broken especially when I counted the number of days they stay away from school in a term and even in a year. Nobody should live like that,â€ Lungowe said.
She said as a way of assisting the girls, she came up with an idea of making washable or re-usable sanitary towels using chitenge material, towels and fasteners.
By August 2013, Lungowe finished her first 40 bunch of re-usable or washable pads which she single-handedly manually sewed.
â€œI draw a dummy of a normal disposal pad on a chitenge material which I then fitted with a towel then sewn together. I made some with wings and others without. Then I took to my coordinator who approved. I took to the girls as a sample and taught them how to use,â€ she said.
The re-usable pads were an instant hit. She went back to her coordinator who gave her an electric sewing machine to use to meet the high demand.
â€œUnlike the disposal pads, these are washable and can last for 10 months if properly cared for. Girls are also comfortable wearing it because it stays in place because of the fastener that is attached to the pad,â€ she said.
She said a pack of her washable sanitary towels contains four pads and cost K20; money she then uses to buy materials to make more.
â€œThe good thing that has come out of this innovation is that like the boys, the girls get to attend class even when they are menstruating. They do not have to worry about any embarrassing moments and the washable pads are safe,â€ she said.
Lungowe said the only challenge she is now facing is meeting the high demand for the washable pads as production is currently low.
â€œThere is also the issue of inadequate resources to buy these materials and other things that I need but I am doing the best I can to ensure to donâ€™t go back to what used to be. I am also trying to teach the girls how to make these pads so that they can also teach their friends,â€ she said.
Born in a family of eight in Ndola, Lungowe said Government should priotise and address reproductive health issues for women and girls in rural areas as it has serious public health consequences.
Lungowe did her primary education in Kabwe and completed her secondary education in Kaoma in 2010. She then enrolled at YWCA in Business and Entrepreneurship skills in 2011.
â€œIt is unfortunate that because of the cultural and traditional beliefs, menstruation and issues to do with reproductive health are not publicly discussed despite the negative impact it has on young women and girls. There is need for a deliberate policy for vulnerable or girls from poor families to have unlimited access to good reproductive and health care services,â€ she said.
And after her participation at the national women economic empowerment jubilee expo, Lungowe is more than excited about the prospect of a brighter future now that she is â€˜armedâ€™ with the necessary knowledge and skills on how to expand her business.
By KAPALA CHISUNKA