Period poverty cripples future of Namibian girls
Several studies pinpoint poverty and menstruation as key factors influencing African girls' school attendance and their ability to lead a healthy and successful life.
22 February 2021 | Health
The onset of menstruation for many Namibian teens poses a threat to their health, education, development and success later in life as they navigate the troubling hurdles of poverty, social taboos, and access to toilets and fresh water.
In Namibia, with poverty and school absenteeism a major concern, the lack of concrete data around menstrual health and management among school-going teenagers has prompted a study that was undertaken last year to better understand the extent of the issued and find solutions. Two years ago, it was estimated that around 150 000 marginalised girls are unable to afford period products during menstruation. They are forced to use toiletpaper, newspapers, cloth, mattress stuffing and in some cases plants to manage their menstruation.
In 2019, the BBC reported that a Namibian schoolgirl admitted she had resorted to using contraceptive injections to control her periods, as she could not afford sanitary products. It is estimated that at least one in 10 girls in Africa miss school because of menstruation.
A study in Uganda of 140 school girls found that two-thirds missed school each month.
A draft report is expected to be completed this year, the education ministry confirmed this week.
“There is no concrete data on the number of Namibian girls missing school due to menstruation but anecdotal data suggests the number is high,” the research proposal document, on which the study is based, states. The authors said poverty and sanitation, in addition to social and religious stigmas in some communities “hinder the effective participation of the girl child”. “This results in schoolgirls having to miss classes for three to five days each month. Lack of water and sanitation facilities at school cause high failure rates and drop-outs from school amongst girls.”
Rich vs poor
“Where all rich people use toilets, only 8% of the poorest population uses toilets meeting basic criteria. Also, regional disparities in access to basic sanitation in Namibia is pronounced,” the 2020 research proposal notes. The Khomas Region boasts the highest access to sanitation, with 71.5% of households having access to private or shared flush toilets. In the Kavango West Region, studies found only 6.3% of households use flush toilets. Unicef's 2018 annual report on Namibia found “school-based sanitation remained a challenge, with nearly one-quarter of schools lacking sanitation facilities in 2018. This had negative consequences on school attendance and learning outcomes, especially for girls during their menstruation.”A study in Kenya found that 10% of a group of girls aged 15 who were questioned on menstrual health admitted that they resorted to transactional sex to obtain money for sanitary pads.
This deepened their dependency on the men throughout their later life, the study warned. Several studies across Africa based on interviews with policymakers pinpointed “poverty and menstruation” as key factors influencing their school attendance and their ability to lead a healthy and successful life.
Many argue that access to sanitary products, especially to school-going girls, is a crucial step towards promoting gender equality and helping girls overcome social barriers while improving education rates and promoting poverty elimination.
Although advocacy for such a move has attracted increasing support in Namibia, and efforts to supply sanitary products from private and state sectors are in place, some lawmakers, both male and female, have shied away from the subject.
In November 2020 Scotland became the first country in the world to declare all sanitary products cost-free for women and girls. The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill was passed last year, two years after Scotland became the first country to provide free sanitary products to schools, colleges and universities. For those who can afford sanitary products, it is estimated they spend around N$100 000 on sanitary products during their lifetime.