1 000 schoolgirls receive pads

11 July 2019 | Education

A local organisation that produces washable and affordable sanitary pads distributed packs consisting of six pads each in varying sizes to 1 000 girls in June.

A pack consists of six washable pads and lasts up to four years, keeping Namibian girls behind their school desks.

Ann Pads founder Hermine Bertolini says her organisation, with the help of numerous sponsors, distributed the sanitary pads to four schools in Kavango West, two schools in the Kavango East and three schools in the Zambezi Region during the month of June.

She said during the handing over of the washable pads, the “excitement seen of their faces of the girls was heart-warming”.

Thousands of vulnerable Namibian girls, notably in remote rural areas of the country, struggle each month to access safe sanitary products.

Earlier this year, the Office of the Ombudsman and the education ministry hosted a 'keeping our girls in school' forum, alongside Ann Pads.

The forum underlined that thousands of Namibian girls are forced to “use any available cloth like old T-shirts, socks and even old newspapers, which is very unhygienic”.

As a result, many girls refuse to go to school when they menstruate.

If a girl stays away from school one week every month, for one trimester she misses a whole month of school compared to her male competitor.



A sense of dignity

Bertolini said Ann Pads was launched as a social entrepreneurship project, and designed to give girls and women their dignity back.

They are especially created for those who are unable to afford a costly pack of disposable sanitary pads each cycle.

A pack consisting of six washable pads costs N$120 and can last up to four years. The pads are created to provide optimal moisture management and absorbency and are environmentally friendly.

Bertolini launched Ann Pads from her home in Khomasdal in August 2018 after retiring from nearly 30 years in the textile industry.

She says her background in textiles, including a degree, provided an ideal launch pad for Ann Pads, coupled with the fact that over the years she had noted the crucial need for the issue to be addressed.

“I wanted to do something meaningful, and I knew this was a problem.”

Since the launch of the project in August 2018, nearly 3 000 sanitary pad packs have been distributed at schools.

Bertolini emphasised that providing safe sanitary pads not only ensures young girls can attend school at all times, but it also ensures dignity.



Big problem

In June last year, Namibian Sun reported that as many as 150 000 Namibian schoolgirls could be struggling to access safe sanitary products every month.

Earlier this year, the gender equality and child welfare minister told the National Assembly that only about 17% of girls living in rural areas have access to improved sanitary services.

“Girls who lack resources to buy sanitary products have been silently suffering heart-rending humiliation and academic disadvantages during their menstrual period,” the minister said.

Many have supported calls for providing schoolgirls with free sanitary products to ensure menstruation does not present an obstacle to education.

Last year, Sister Namibia pointed out that most girls begin their menses at an age when they are economically dependent on others. If they are not able to access sanitary products, due to financial constraints of lack of availability, they often “substitute products with traditional or home-based alternatives, which may be unhygienic or even unhealthy.”

The non-profit advocacy group also warned that while some girls stay at home, others find “harmful ways”, including sugar daddies, to afford sanitary products.

JANA-MARI SMITH