Liberty Dube Post Correspondent
IT IS a Thursday and a school-going day for 13-year-old Primrose Chirewo (not real name) who has just spent her fourth day without going to school.
Primrose walks without ease, as if she is in great pain and her siblings think she is under the weather and in serious pain. “Are you not well?” a question is posed to which she quickly responds in the affirmative.
“What is wrong,” a follow-up question comes immediately to which she responds with a childish giggle. Her mother, Alice later confides to the worried brothers that she was on her menstrual cycle, but was not comfortable to disclose that to them.
Skipping crucial school days and risking diseases has become the order of the day for young rural girls who can’t afford sanitary pads. Her situation is not in isolation as it is common among village girls whose families struggle to afford a dollar or two a month just for that.
In 2014, Member of the National Assembly (Proportional Representation), Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga introduced a motion calling for the scrapping of duty on sanitary pads, passionately and emotionally stating the dangers of using unorthodox means by girls during “their days” particularly in rural areas.
Her calls touched hearts of many in the House. Nyanga South Member of National Assembly, Cde Supa Mandiwanzira, was among them.
“Female members in Parliament have always spoken on this and leading the call has been Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga. It is something serious that needs our attention as leaders and as society,” he said while addressing Nyangani High School pupils when he donated sanitary pads to female pupils recently.
“We know that in schools, teachers have a problem when their pupils face such challenges without adequate resources. Others spend five days without coming to school because they don’t have sanitary pads. I know it is a challenge because parents cannot afford school fees, what more sanitary pads.
“They would prefer to save that dollar for school fees and not for sanitary wear. For the good of our girl child, these pads we have brought here are very important. We want to thank Touching Lives because indeed they are touching lives.”
He added: “Touching Lives is an organisation that identifies problems in our communities and finds ways to address them. This year, they said they are focusing on schoolgirls in need of sanitary wear. The project that is set to continue in Nyanga, initially targeting two schools, Nyangani and Crossdale high schools.”
Each school got two months’ supply of sanitary wear, with 42 cases at Nyangani High School benefiting 491 girls, while the 20 cases given to Crossdale High School will benefit 257 girls.
Representing the girl child, Nyangani High School head girl, Mildred Yolanda Ncube, said the gesture by Cde Mandiwanzira and Touching Lives was critical in addressing challenges bedevilling the girl child.
“We wish for this project to spread to all places across the country. I urge you to continue with this kind gesture, not only to us, but other children who are in the same plight,” she said.
Touching Lives co-ordinator, Mrs Hope Mudangwe, said: “Girls should be wary of diseases such as cancer that come with failure to observe hygiene.” The organisation’s founder, Mr Rabson Shumba, chipped in: “It is important for the society to take care of the girl child, as doing so is tantamount to building the future of the nation.”
It emerged that most girls in rural areas and some parts of urban areas resort to cast-off pieces of old cloth as sanitary ware, risking their lives in the process. Others use pieces of mutton cloth (depending on availability) that they usually wash and share.
Investigations by this reporter revealed that some young rural girls in rural communities in Nyanga are using cow dung, dried maize cobs and newspapers to absorb menstrual blood each month because they can’t afford to buy the sanitary ware.
Parents interviewed said their children were missing out on school as they were being forced to stay at home when they are on their menstrual cycle.
“It would appear as if a dollar or two is nothing, but in this part of the country, it is a lot. When a parent gets a dollar, the last thing to consider is a pad for the girl child. We tend to focus on food, budgeting for school fees or other necessities, which is if there is anything to budget for,” said Mrs Sachikonje of Ruwangwe in Nyanga South.
Mrs Dodzo said she usually saves a few dollars from selling vegetables to buy sanitary ware for her two female children aged 12 and 13. “I don’t get money everyday. I save a dollar a week so that I can manage to buy some pads at the end of the month. If it fails, they usually use newspapers or a mutton cloth which they can wash and re-use.
Maize cobs and cow dung can be options especially when we are really desperate. You know rainy days are always there in life. This gesture will really go a long way in assisting our children,” she said.
As the adage goes: “Girls are the spirit of our nation, save them and stop their exploitation”, it is indeed a duty for the community to protect the girl child.