The world marked the International Day of the Girl on Tuesday. Despite the advances made in empowering girls, the onset of puberty continues to hinder a significant number of girls from getting a proper education.
A special class is being held at Epworth High School in Harare, Zimbabwe, to ease the girls into the journey to becoming women.
Teacher Rudo Mbirimi explains that many are unprepared when puberty hits. “They even go to the extent of crying and it disturbs their lessons and concentration in class.”
Some of the girls have been shamed and mocked by the boys, when accidents happen during their menstrual cycle. And often just the fear of an accident dumbs down their contribution in class.
A month’s supply of sanitary pads cost just one US dollar or R14. But this is Epworth, where violent protests over poverty sparked rolling demonstrations in the capital.
The United Nations says close to three quarters of Zimbabweans live on less than 1.25 dollar a day.
Learner Nkosinathi Goredema says, “Some of us who stay in this area. It’s difficult to get a dollar, because that dollar would need to be used to buy something. So, if you tell your parents you want a dollar to buy sanitary towels it’s a problem. I think they should be free.”
Simba Manyika, an old boy of the school, is driving an initiative to ensure no girl goes without sanitary pads.
“The issue of menstrual health is everybody’s issue. It’s not only for the girls and or not only for the mothers and the women.”
He is an old boy at the school and has witnessed first-hand the impact of lack of access to sanitary pads had on female learners.
“Those girls at that stage in those communities do actually abscond from school. So, by the end of the year, they would have missed three weeks of school.”
It will take time before some of the girls get comfortable talking openly about the most defining period in their lives.
Many still squirm and giggle in embarrassment. But community workers believe taboos need to be broken to save lives.
Charity group, Action Aid, says it’s a widespread problem and that one in ten African girls skips school when on their periods.
They believe that the provision of sanitary pads are not just a nicety, but an essential tool in the fight against poverty and injustice.