Campaign, if implemented, would boost women’s rights, writes Mona Hakimi
Jan 16, 2011 10:41 PM | By Mona Hakimi
The Big Read: Jacob Zuma last week said the government would provide free sanitary towels to women and girls who cannot afford them
Is 2011 a new era of gender equality in South Africa or is Zuma leading lines of people to the local government elections with luring lyrics and empty promises?
I wholeheartedly support the idea that every girl child in South Africa deserves access to sanitary towels. In his call for free sanitary towels last year, ANC Youth League Secretary Vuyiswa Tulelo drew on the successful implementation of free condoms at public health institutions.
Tulelo argued that if access to condoms has been prioritised by the government, why not apply the same principle to the health and hygiene of young women?
ANCYL provincial secretary Jacob Lebogo added to the momentum by asserting that men have “the responsibility to ensure that the rights of women are protected”.
There is little doubt that making sanitary towels accessible to girls and women who cannot afford them would promote gender equality. The 28-day cycle that the majority of women go through is tied up with the cycle of poverty that affects millions of South Africans in everyday ways.
Without access to sanitary towels, a girl child in the SADC region may be excluded from her right to education. The Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) and the Girl Child Network (GCN) have discovered that despite the provision of free schooling by the Kenyan government, more than 800000 children (mostly girls) continue to forgo the opportunity of education.
The CGE and the GCN found that during menstruation, some girls refused to go to school because they cannot access sanitary towels and the school toilets are unsafe or unusable. The high cost of sanitary towels also results in the use of unhygienic sponges, tissue paper and even foliage during menstruation.
According to 2010 research for the Freedom for Girls Project of the Health Education Africa Resource Team, when a girl is absent from school four days a month due to menses, she loses 13 learning days in every school term.
This means she loses 156 learning days in the 144 weeks of high school.