National, Provincial, District and Local Leadership converged at Mkhondo local Municipality last week (28 February 2019) to launch the national sanitary dignity programme which Mpumalanga Premier Hon. Refilwe Mtshweni described as “a journey towards restoring the dignity and self-esteem of our girl children and women.”
The national Government was represented by the Minister of Women in the Presidency, Honourable Bathabile Dlamini. Gert Sibande Executive District Mayor, Cllr Muzi Chirwa and the Executive Mayor of Mkhondo Local Municipality; Cllr Vusi Motha were also part of the leadership that took part.
“By launching this programme, we affirm the commitment of the ANC led Government, both Nationally and Provincially to protecting and prioritising the interests of the girl child, an often marginalised subsect of our communities.” said Premier Mtshweni.
The Premier went on to highlight the importance of such an auspicious occasion. Women and in particular girls of school going age find themselves at the centre of stigma as a result of menstruation. Schools are inundated with numerous stories of girls being taunted and bullied as a result of the onset of menstruation, which in a lot of instances happens when a girl child is within the parameters of schooling environment.
What exacerbates the problem are inaccessible teachers within the education system. The Menstrual Health in East and Southern Africa report, commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund in 2018, established that approximately 45% percent of teachers within the intermediary phase of our education system feel that it is not their role nor do they have the skills, to educate girls on the advent of menstruation.
“It is this dissonance from the responsibility of caring for children that creates an environment wherein bullying and taunting thrives.”
“The high cost of sanitary towels results in girls of school going age placing their health at risk by using unhygienic sponges, mattresses, tissue paper and cotton during their menstrual cycle. In numerous instances, a significant number of young girls refuse to go to school due to a lack of proper menstruation products. The consequences of these decisions are often dire.” warned Mtsheni.
The Premier also elaborated that, it is estimated that a girl child is absent from school, as a result of their menstrual cycle, for 4 to 5 days in every 28 days (a month) thereby losing three weeks of learning every school term.The lost learning days inevitably result in lost self-confidence and a drop in academic performance.
The aim of this project was to reduce absenteeism attributable to the menstrual cycle by up to 90%. The programme will achieve that by rolling out menstrual pads to the neediest girls, free of charge.
Program Director, it would be remiss for me not to acknowledge the role that has been played by the Department of Women in the Presidency in pursuit of this initiative. Honourable Minister, the sterling work that you have led in the conceptualisation and implementation of the Sanitary Dignity Policy Framework has led us to where we are today.
The Department of Women in collaboration with strategic sector Departments such as the Department of Social Development will roll out the distribution of sanitary towels to thousands of girls in various schools in Mpumalanga province, targeting rural and remote communities. This programme is also targeted at quelling the stigma around menstruation within the communities. “This stigma is not an individual female problem but a societal matter.” She advised.
“We must ensure that our girls are not victimised as a result of a natural and biological process. Working together with civil society, we must create a gender responsive school environment. This will go a long way in ensuring that South Africa is primly positioned to attain gender parity and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.” said Mtshweni.
The Minister of Finance in his Mid Term Budget Statement of 2018 said that from April 2019, sanitary towels shall be added to the list of items that are exempt from value added tax, also known as zero rated items. This will result in the average woman will spend R5000 less, during the course of her lifetime, on sanitary towels.
“It is my belief that we will be able to take the sanitary towel campaign to even higher levels from now onwards to provide the girls with an uninterrupted education; encourage cleanliness, which would in turn instill confidence and self-esteem.” said the Premier.
The priority of government is to ensure that more stakeholders are incorporated into this campaign so that jointly, government and stakeholders ensure that the girl child achieves complete freedom and reaches her full potential.
This public launch, it is hoped, that it will help to remove the stigma that surrounds the issue of menstruation and break the silence associated with female sexual and reproductive health issues. The Premier encouraged government partners in the private sector to be part of the quest to make a difference in the lives of young girls and women who are deprived and cannot afford sanitary towels.
“Together, let us continue to transform our communities and create a caring society that loves and cares for its women and children.” she concluded.