Features

Fight against period poverty for all

JACQUELINE CHISHIMBA-KALABO
IT IS an undoubtable fact that many women and girls countrywide lack access to menstrual hygiene management (MHM) materials and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities to manage their menstrual health. This is evidenced by the many women and girls who use unhygienic menstrual management materials, which can cause deadly health complications.Public spaces such as schools
which lack adequate ablution and gender -sensitive WASH facilities add to these health complications.According to a research study posted on the BMC Public Health website, about 44 percent of girls drop out of school before completing their secondary education in Zambia.One reason for this interruption is inadequate provision for MHM that does not allow all girls to attend school with dignity and comfort during their menstrual period.This situation has exacerbated period poverty among many females in underserviced communities.According to the Royal College of Nursing, period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints, which are caused by a wide range of life events that negatively impact on a girl or woman’s ability to access sanitary products to manage a most intimate and regular occurrence in her life.Period poverty has negative impacts on health, education,gender equality , and productivity ,and, if not addressed, perpetuates existing inequalities. No girl should have to miss school or at worst drop out due to a lack of access to sanitary materials or adequate WASH facilities that allow for safe and dignified menstrual management.That is why Government,together with its cooperating partners, must formulate policies to address period poverty.A progressive policy such as provision of free menstrual sanitary pads to female school learners will protect them from stigma, anxiety and discomfort associated with MHM and empower them to focus on their studies while easing the cost of living for families.It is worth noting that sanitary items are a necessity , not a luxury , and the distribution of free sanitary products in both public and private schools will support tens of thousands of female school learners across the country.On the other hand, lack of access to menstrual sanitary pads and tampons can negatively impact on female school learners’participation in sport and everyday school activities.Female learners may not concentrate in class, feel comfortable or feel confident doing physical activity , and miss school altogether.By making sanitary products freely available at school, we are one step closer to educational equality and up-scaling schools to being a more inclusive place where pupils focus on their studies.But truth be told, even with policies in place, Government alone cannot fight period poverty , hence the need for concerted efforts from various stakeholders who include individuals, the private sector and non-governmental organisations.The efforts in fighting period poverty have to be doubled, if not tripled, especially that the
situation has been worsened by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.COVID-19’s wide-ranging impact has not spared menstrual health and hygiene because it
has brought more suffering to girls and young women who are financially incapacitated.iSanitise envisions a world where a menstrual period doesn’
t create stress, shame or any unnecessary obstacle for girls.This can be achieved by strengthening confidence,negotiation skills and formulating
policies that drive the free distribution of menstrual sanitary pads and information.Menstrual health and hygiene programmes can help people who
menstruate overcome obstacles to their health, freedom and development.Information about menstrual hygiene doesn’t only safeguard girls’health but also helps them
reach their full potential.It is critical for all wellmeaning citizens to support girls and women in managing their monthly menstrual cycle in a
dignified and healthy way .This is why fighting period poverty with all the energy it deserves cannot be overemphasised.The author is the iSanitize
executive director and an expert in leadership.



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