VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
AT SOME point, every woman has complained about menstruation period, it could be stomach pains and general discomfort.
But have you ever considered how difficult menstruation is for incarcerated women?
Being incarcerated is bad enough for women; however having menses while in prison is something that is unbearable for women.
Having menses is a normal female function, generally manageable with adequate resources and women are able to go about with their business during this period.
The same may not however be said about women who are confined to institutions such as prisons.
For incarcerated women, the experience of a menses can be stressful and demeaning.
These women are at the mercy of prison authorities to supply them with sanitary towels during their menstrual periods.
But one wonders how female prisoners with no support from family and friends manage through this period in a month.
Zambia Correctional Services (ZCS) public relations officer Maggie Nawa explains that the correctional service does not provide inmates with any sanitary towels.
“It is not a deliberate move that we do not provide female inmates with sanitary wear; it is due to lack of resources. We however realise the need for inmates to be provided with sanitary wear,” Ms Nawa said.
Sanitary pads, also known as sanitary napkin or menstrual pad is a thin pad made of absorbent material that absorbs the menstrual fluid during menstruation. Some sanitary towels are disposable and are meant for single use only.
To ensure that inmates have sanitary towels, the ZCS works in collaboration with stakeholders such as the church, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and civil society organisations which regularly provide pads to inmates in prisons across the country.
However, the concentration for most NGOs has been along the line of rail.
Rita Mushili (not real name) who served a prison term at Central Prison in Lusaka recounted her prison experience.
“I shared a cell with other girls and a number of us would be having our periods and would not be provided with sanitary towels. However, we would be provided with sanitary towels whenever the churches and non-governmental organisations made donations,” Ms Mushili said.
According to her, whenever there were no provision of sanitary pads, women were expected to be innovative and make provisions of handmade sanitary pads.
Prison Care and Counseling Association executive director Godfrey Malembeka says his organisation donates sanitary pads though not on a regular basis.
“It is the duty of Government to ensure that female inmates are provided with sanitary pads. The women are not so many that such a vital need should be overlooked,” Dr Malembeka noted.
He said Government should be in the forefront to ensure that these women have access to sanitary towels.
According to the 2017 national budget, Government announced the provision of free sanitary pads to rural and peri urban school girls.
“This programme will for the first time, support 14,000 girls from vulnerable households in 16 districts by providing requisites to retain them in school,” reads part of Minister of Finance Felix Mutati’s budget speech to Parliament.
The minister noted that Zambia like many other African countries, reproductive health matters are treated as taboo and with silence.
The lack of sanitary pads limits girls’ access to education as some fail to go to school due to lack of proper sanitary towels.
But Dr Malembeka suggests that the provision of sanitary pads to school girls can be extended to female inmates who are incarcerated.
For many female inmates, the scarcity of sanitary pads is humiliating and a major health risk.
The inaccessibility of menstrual products for inmates results in embarrassment, anxiety and shame especially when women stain their clothes, which is stigmatising.
Many inmates interviewed described menstruation as a time of anxiety and discomfort.
According to a report by Soothe Health Care of India on the impact of unhygienic sanitary practices on women’s health, poor menstrual hygiene can cause fungal infections, reproductive tract infection (RTI) and urinary tract infection (UTI).
It further states that unhygienic practices also leave women vulnerable to infertility because of infections.
It is therefore important that incarcerated women should be provided with sanitary pads to ensure that their reformatory period in prison is manageable.
If you think having menses is a discomfort, imagine the experience in prison.