Nkosi* usually does odd cleaning jobs to help her family stretch the social grants they rely on. The family of eight lives in a two roomed house in section six in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township.
‘We don’t have money for sanitary towels‘
Since the start of the lockdown in South Africa to curb the spread of Covid-19, she hasn’t been able to work. The family survives on three social grants. She says neighbours have gotten used to them asking for handouts.
“When my daughter is on her period and we don’t have money for sanitary towels, we either ask around or I borrow money to buy them and pay it back at the end of the month,” says Nkosi.
Her daughter, who is 15, says she hates having to ask neighbours for sanitary towels. “I feel as though my mother does not take my periods seriously,” she says, but her mother quickly interjects to explain that is not the case and painfully explains that there is simply no money for them.
The 15-year–old says it is heart-breaking to have to live through the discomfort of menstruation with the added burden of having to ask around for sanitary towels.
Thando Khumalo* (16) says being away from school is added stress because usually the school principal gives girls sanitary towels, now she says she has to beg or go without. ”I ask friends, if they don’t have I use a cloth and sit at home the whole day and I don’t like it. I just sit at home and keep changing and washing cloths regularly.”
This is a common scenario in families in this section but young girls remain embarrassed so they are reluctant to share their stories. While they shy away from talking about menstruation, some men talk openly about the they’re facing. “We know they are suffering, and there are many here,” says Moses Mhlongo, while directing Health–e News through the area.
A need as natural as food and water
Government has been distributing food parcels that contains sanitary towels to different sections in Alexandra, but they have not gotten to section six yet. On May 11, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disability and the Department of Social Development announced a partnership with the United Nations Population Fund and others to ensure distribution of sanitary towels to vulnerable communities.
“This is informed by our recognition that women’s sanitary needs are a natural biological reality that does not go away simply because there is [a] lockdown or pandemic. This need remains throughout [most of] a woman’s life. Therefore, interventions that are targeted at addressing women’s menstrual needs are not an exception. Let me emphasise, they are as normal as the need to eat and drink water!” says social development minister, Lindiwe Zulu.
Minister in the presidency for women, youth and persons with disability, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has applauded the collaboration saying that it would help restore the dignity of many young girls and women.
“It is therefore absolutely pleasing that in the midst of this pandemic, you have unreservedly come to the fore and raised your hands in contributing to mitigating the demands of indigent women and girls.”
The department of social development says the sanitary towels will be distributed through the same mechanism used to distribute food parcels. – Health-e News
*Not their real names
For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website.