Young girls need more than sanitary products, survey reveals

Sanitary pads and tampons. (Natracare/Unsplash)
Written by Marcia Zali

The ♯HelpHetta Project seeks to address the needs of girls and young women beyond sanitary pads and hygiene products after lockdown restrictions revealed overlooked disparities.

As they struggled to deliver sanitary pads to hundreds of young women during the COVID-19 lockdown, an organisation discovered that the need was far greater than they thought.

Solidarity Helping Hand has been supporting girls from poor families with parcels consisting of sanitary pads and hygiene products. For seven years the group has supported 3,000 girls from 107 schools through the #HelpHetta project.

When the lockdown restrictions imposed last year, they were unable to deliver the parcels to the girls. Over 1,432 more girls applied to receive support from the project—support Solidarity Helping Hand could not afford.

“During COVID-19, 19% of the girls were prohibited from getting sanitary wear from schools and then we realised that we had to look at it holistically because we don’t have any way to give them sanitary wear when the schools are closed. Then we decided to do research where we sent out the questionnaire electronically to the participants,” says Hannie Viljoen, head of the organisation.

Girls and young women voice their needs

Out of the 3000 from girls that participated in the survey, 43% of them said that they wanted to enroll into self-defence classes. A quarter of them said that they needed more information on how to protect themselves from abuse.

Information on contraceptives was needed by 15% of the girls while 19% said that they were willing to use sustainable menstrual products such as the menstrual cup.

The 2019 statistics on teenage pregnancy show that , 3% out of the 124,628 of all teenage pregnancies were of primary school girls. This means that over 3,500 girls between the ages of 10 and 13 fell pregnant that year.

“What we realised is that because of these teenage pregnancies, we have to look at them holistically and find out what other needs they have,” said Viljoen. “The greatest social-emotional need that these girls had was the need for motivational talks and encouraging devotion—it was 88%.”

More than half of the girls and young women, 55%, wanted more information on how to build their self-esteem and self-worth. A further 38% wanted to learn how relationships work and 35% wanted to develop spiritually, added Viljoen.

Girls and young women have questions that need answers

At the at Ebenhaeser Primary School in Krugersdorp West, learners from grade five to seven received their packs from Solidarity Helping Hands. Teacher Lizaan Boshoff said the learners benefit from a more holistic engagement.

“They basically talked to the girls about menstruation, what it means, how it works because for a lot of the girls in our school, the parents do not talk to them about this topic,” said Boshoff. “The first time it happens to them, it’s most likely at school and you get hysterical little girls thinking they are being punished for something they did wrong because they do not know what is happening to them.”

“Since they were at the school, I have had a lot of the girls coming up to me and asking questions that they are too afraid or ashamed to ask the parents or their friends,” added Boshoff. More than 70% of learners at the school come from families who cannot afford to pay school fees, making the outreach of groups like Solidarity Helping Hands essential.

The NGO hopes that their survey will prompt members of the public and other NGOs to offer their services so that they can reach the girls’ needs.

“For example, we have identified that the girls need self-defence classes so if there is someone from the public that can help us with that, we want them to come and share their talents so that we can help these girls,” says Benette Welman, project organiser at ♯HelpHetta. —Health-e News.

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Marcia Zali