Tackling the menstrual taboo

03 June 2019 | Columns

It is a common fact that many young girls in our country cannot afford sanitary products.

This often forces them to miss school due to this problem, while many others resort to using matrasses, pillow stuffing, dried leaves and cotton cloths when they menstruate, simply because sanitary products are out of their reach. Although much has been said about this issue, including at the recently celebrated Menstrual Hygiene Day, where calls were made for an end to the harmful traditional practices used by women and girls when they menstruate, there is still little action on providing free sanitary products to the schoolgoing girl child. Many of you will also recall that in 2016 some female parliamentarians shied away from debating the provision of free feminine hygiene products to needy schoolgirls. The motion was tabled by PDM leader McHenry Venaani, who said it was important to remind those who consider the issue taboo that all matters that require developmental intervention are “the issues of MPs”. Surprisingly, female MPs were not keen on discussing the matter after Venaani concluded his motivation. As a nation we need to break this menstrual taboo for good, considering the persistent harmful socio-cultural norms, stigma and misconceptions that lead to the exclusion and discrimination of women and young girls. We are sitting with an estimated 150 000 Namibians girls that cannot afford sanitary products. Can you imagine the impact this has on their young lives? It is truly unimaginable to see women and young girls using fabric, including T-shirts and socks, or newspapers, which can be harmful, at worst, and embarrassing and unhygienic. There should be much bigger efforts to eradicate this problem. Although a new Namibian-made reusable sanitary product could significantly ease the monthly struggle of girls, who unable to afford disposable sanitary pads, government must take the lead and roll out the provision of free sanitary pads in schools, in order to help girls who struggle to buy their own.