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Period poverty among challenges faced by women in SA

by Zahid Jadwat

Period poverty was highlighted as a significant challenge for women in South Africa as the country observed National Women’s Day on Tuesday (9 August). This was one of the equally important conversations overshadowed by GBV, femicide and other challenges facingwomen. Photo thequakercampus.org 

Activists say the difficulty of accessing sanitary products – known as period poverty – has far-reaching implications on the lives of women.

Speaking in a Twitter Space conversation hosted by SM Digital, menstrual activist Candice Chirwa said inequality has exacerbated period poverty. The ‘Minister of Menstruation’, as she has been nicknamed, said many women now have to decide between buying food and sanitary products.

“The reality is that there are certain households that will have to negotiate whether for the month they are buying a pack of pads or they’re buying food to put on the table,” she said.

According to former Minister of Women in the Presidency, Bathabile Dlamini, approximately seven million women are unable to access sanitary products.

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Ending period poverty

Chirwa has been advocating for menstrual products to be made freely accessible to women at public facilities. She said placing dispensers at public facilities and recognising access to sanitary products as a right would go a long way in eradicating period poverty.

“What we are asking for as menstrual activists is to make period products free and ensure that everyone has access to it – either in public bathrooms, public institutions like universities, clinics, government buildings,” she said.

She explained that providing these products would unlock the full potential of women. She said nobody should be held back by a biological function.

“Imagine you were constantly sneezing to the point that you just couldn’t manage your snot. You didn’t have toilet paper [so] you’re at some point you’re going to tell the government [to] make sure toilet paper is free so that I can be able to go to school or go to work,” she said.

“It’s the same thing. When we think of it that way, when we see menstruation as a normal human function, then I think society will respond in a way to say why is it the fact that so many people are being held back by this normal human function.”

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‘All we hear is silence’

Chirwa lamented that the government, as she believed, was not doing enough to protect the interests of women. She said the Ministry of Women in the Presidency had been largely reactive instead of proactive.

“I always just get surprised and it’s not even a level of shock anymore. I’m just always surprised. There’s obviously been the usual Women’s Day posters that commemorate and celebrate women and the history of the 1956 women and beyond that it’s just silence,” she said.

“It just shows the priority of the Cabinet to say ‘we only value women and the youth on the specific public holidays and the rest of the days it’s nonexistent.’”

Chirwa said she would like to see the government playing a proactive role by supporting youth and women. This, she hoped, would occur through education and collaboration with civil society instead of reaction to public holidays and prominent incidents.


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