The former Zimbabwean university student who is also Living Dreams International founder, Florence Kayungwa says that the challenges faced by young girls during the menstrual period are threatening their education and general well-being.
Her organization has been advocating for the young girls to access sexual reproductive health facilities as well as donating sanitary pads to less privileged girls in Hurungwe and other communities of Mashonaland West.
Kayungwa, who is running a project to support the young girls mostly in rural areas, says that the objective of the project was to make sure girls do not miss school. The project was also motivated by her own experiences after suffering menstrual period poverty and shame because of failure to buy sanitary pads.
“So, I just came across one of the well-wishers’ statement saying what breaks your heart and I reflected on my life and then found out that what breaks my heart is the fact that I suffered menstrual period poverty and shame so I should do something about it,” Kayungwa explained.
“When the heart is being broken by something, you should be able to address that problem, especially in the community so I took it upon myself that no one will ever explain this more than me, because I have first-hand information because I experienced it, and I can advocate for it using my own experience.” She added.
Kayungwa says that she has friends in US who are helping her for this initiative after sharing her story. They fell in love with the story and started helping her. The project dubbed ‘Period poverty’ seeks to make sure that the young girls receive reproductive health support during menstrual period.
A beneficiary Ruvarashe Matau told Newsday over the weekend that menstrual period poverty seriously affected her academic performance. “My school attendances were varied and when my periods came, I used to miss lessons. My friends used to wonder why I was not coming to school for three days or a week, but I was unable to explain to them,” she said.
“My self-esteem was also low and until then I told myself that I will not be able to go to my dream school and I won’t be able to reach my goals and used to have this wish that I was never born a girl.”
Most communities in Zimbabwe suffer extreme poverty because access to menstrual products is limited and the products are pricey. While 88% of women and girls are accessing disposable sanitary products in urban areas, only 68% of their counterparts in rural areas were affording them, according to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
This is forcing many women to opt for unsafe methods which include old rags and cow dung covered with cloth especially in rural areas. Another scenario observed among girls was that at least 10% of the girls had no access to underwear which meant they would rather stay at home than face embarrassment at school.
Formative research on menstrual hygiene management final report released in December 2019 shows that disposable sanitary pads are commonly used and preferred for sanitary hygiene as they are considered by the majority (59,4%) of girls as highly effective.
The cost, however, has become prohibitive with many relying on less user-friendly and unacceptable sanitary materials such as old pieces of cloth (3,3% urban, 11,7% rural), tissue paper (0,1% urban and 0,4% rural) and cotton wool (0,6% urban, 1,7% rural).