Andile Tshuma, Chronicle Reporter
THE price of sanitary wear in the country has gone beyond the reach of many and a number of women and children have resorted to unorthodox ways of managing their periods.
This comes at a time when the world is marking World Menstrual Hygiene Management Day which falls on May 28.
Most of the common sanitary pads brands in the country are imported and the closure of borders has resulted in the soaring of prices in the country.
Low priced sanitary pads are scarce and most shops have stocked expensive brands, such as Cortex, which costs about $120 for a pack of 10, way beyond the reach of many women.
Women who spoke to Chronicle said they could no longer afford to buy pads and had resorted to using random pieces of cloth or sewing cloth sanitary napkins.
A number of women are in informal employment and have lost their source of livelihoods due to the Covid-19 lockdown regulations, meaning that they now cannot afford to buy pads for themselves and the daughters.
Ms Esther Matshazi, a widow from Mzilikazi suburb, said she struggles to provide sanitary wear for herself and her two daughters after she lost her vending stall when the Bulawayo City Council implemented Covid-19 regulations to clean the city.
“I was a vendor at the market and we were told to vacate the area because of Covid-19. I have not yet been allocated a new selling point. I have three daughters and one son. Two of my daughters are in high school and need sanitary wear each month. I have not yet reached menopause so I still use pads. It’s very expensive.
“We can no longer buy pads. We now use old T-shirts, we cut them up and use them. Its economic as we can wash the cloth and re-use it. However, it breaks my heart that my children have to use what I used as a young girl in the rural areas when I was growing up. I cannot afford to buy pads for all three of us,” she said.
Because menstruation is often shrouded in mystery leading to exclusion, neglect and shame, some women were not comfortable talking about sanitary wear to the news crew, a subject they felt was taboo and could not just be discussed with strangers.
Other women, especially in rural areas, have turned to unhygienic alternatives such as newspapers, rags, leaves, tissue paper and cow dung, among others because they cannot afford sanitary pads or tampons.
Many young girls and women develop rashes, infections and sometimes life-long reproductive health issues because they are forced to improvise and cannot afford sanitary products.
Sexual reproductive health rights activists say the high cost of sanitary wear is infringing on women’s sexual reproductive health rights.
Legislator and renowned gender activist Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the issue of access to sanitary wear should be dealt with as a human rights concern now more than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As the Covid-19 lockdown commenced, women could hardly travel to buy sanitary wear. There is no lockdown for periods. They do not miraculously disappear because there is Covid-19. It is worrying that the kind of packages being given out, sanitary wear is missing. None of the packages includes sanitary wear. No one seems to be thinking around menstrual health however it is affecting many women and girls out there,” she said.
Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said mainstreaming of menstrual health to all important dialogues is more necessary now than ever before as Covid-19 is affecting women in so many ways, chief of them being that they can no longer manage their periods with dignity.
“This is a human rights issue. If we think it’s important to give people food when there is hunger, and in this case where we have the Covid-19 crisis, I don’t understand why we don’t think of providing sanitary wear to women who can’t afford it. It is not a women’s issue only and I think that is where we have lost it, it must concern all of us because every man is born of a mother, has a sister, a daughter or a wife. So, everyone must see the need to have sanitary wear being fully discussed on the table,” said Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
Many organisations and individuals in Zimbabwe have called for free distribution of sanitary pads, similar to the condom style distribution, arguing that menstruation is a natural biological process while sex is a choice.
On average, a woman has her period running from three to seven days and the average woman menstruates from age 13 until age 51. That means the average woman endures 456 periods over 38 years.
Over 800 million women and girls menstruate every day, yet across the globe they face barriers to properly managing their periods.
The social stigmas and taboos surrounding menstruation often prevent women and girls from attending work and school.
There are multiple health risks associated with the use of unhygienic products during menstruation.
Poor management of menstrual hygiene can lead to increased susceptibility to infections, bad odour of menstrual blood due to infrequent change of cloth, a painful period and [email protected]_tshuma