Poverty stretches beyond lack of food and water, as period poverty is one of the biggest challenges Zimbabwean women face. With more than 3 million girls in Zimbabwe menstruating, there is high demand for feminine products. Those most likely to experience period poverty in Zimbabwe are underprivileged girls whose parents or guardians cannot afford to buy tampons, pads or menstrual cups. A lack of access to feminine products results in the unhygienic use of rags and cow dung. This not only affects the girls’ health but also strips them of confidence and dignity.
Many girls in Zimbabwe are at risk of developing infections and suffering the embarrassment of leakages and discomfort. Sanitary products are overpriced, so families have to choose between purchasing feminine products or buying food, with most settling on the latter. As a result, period poverty in Zimbabwe has risen to unimaginable heights and incited the government and many nonprofit organizations to work tirelessly to mitigate this problem.
7 Facts About Period Poverty in Zimbabwe
- Clean period underwear for girls and women in Zimbabwe is in high demand. Many homeless and rural girls do not own a pair of underwear, and underwear is very expensive to buy. The price of underwear is very high, and many consider it a luxury to own a clean pair. Individual projects and nonprofit organizations, like Hope for a Child in Christ, try to meet some of these needs, but the demand remains high.
- Some girls and women experience menstrual cramps and also require pain relievers. However, many pharmacies sell their medication in foreign currency that is inaccessible to the majority of low-income families. Some girls resort to unhealthy solutions, such as sniffing glue, to intoxicate themselves and relieve the pain of period cramps. This causes many to end up addicted to these inhalants that result in long-term effects like nulling brain function and heart failure.
- Zimbabwe’s protracted economic crisis has severely damaged the country’s economic potential. Basic needs like food and water are scarce which significantly lowers the standard of living. Girls and women must eat healthily and wash, especially during their menstrual cycle. However, some have little to no access to clean water, most commonly in rural areas, so they risk getting yeast infections and other health issues.
- There is also a lack of female-friendly toilets. Privacy is an issue, with some toilet cubicles having no doors or sanitary bins, which results in the girls throwing their sanitary wear on the floor or flushing it down the toilet. This increases the risk of diseases developing in various communities and harms the environment. Local ministers have sought funding from the government and work with nonprofit organizations, like Dutch, to build more female-friendly public toilets at schools and shopping centers.
- A study by SNV Zimbabwe states that 72% of menstruating schoolgirls do not use sanitary pads because they cannot afford them. Sanitary wear production is low in Zimbabwe, so the women rely on the importation of the products. Many women activists have voiced their concerns in the hope to raise awareness and shift the government’s mind to provide young women and girls sanitary wear at a more affordable price or better yet, at no cost at all. In December 2018, the government removed the value-added tax, which lowered the price of sanitary wear.
- With period poverty comes a plethora of other problems, including period shaming and bullying. When young girls and women resort to the use of rags and other unsustainable solutions with little absorbency, leakages occur and stain the young girls’ clothing or school uniform. Girls are then embarrassed and fear being around certain family members and peers. This disadvantages their education and mental well-being. As a result, many talented young girls give up their dreams and settle for early child marriages.
- Education about menstrual hygiene and how to use different sanitary products is a requirement for girls. Volunteer teachers and nonprofit organizations, like Talia Women’s Network, make an effort to close the period poverty gap by providing workshops and demonstrations on how a girl should care for herself during her cycle.
A conducive environment is a requirement for young girls and women. An environment where period stigmatization is low to nonexistent gives girls a better chance to be confident and driven. Moving forward, it is essential that more organizations make reducing period poverty in Zimbabwe a priority.
– Pamela Patsanza