Nontokozo Buthelezi, a teacher at Enhlube Combined School in rural Northern KwaZulu-Natal’s Nomponjwana, has raised a voice that SA women should be offered free sanitary pads just as free condoms are given.
The young teacher who has been buying sanitary pads for about 100 pupils since 2008 raised alarm at the rate of young female pupils who stay away from school because they could not afford sanitary pads and therefore could not bear feeling ashamed or stigmatized for menstruating.
Buthelezi said her donation of sanitary pads to female pupils is her way of ensuring they don’t miss school. “Some of the learners don’t even have a school uniform, now imagine pads,” she added.
President Jacob Zuma has promised continuously since 2011 that government will provide free sanitary pads to disadvantaged girls and women. But Buthelezi laments that the president is yet to fulfill this promise even as his tenure in office is close to an end.
“We have yet to see this happen,” she said.
BuzzSouthAfrica reported months back how deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa encouraged south Africans mostly members of the parliament to explore government’s new, free and well scented MAX condoms meant to help reduce the spread of HIV/Aids among citizens.
Government’s introduction of this new Scent-packed condoms gave rise to criticisms over why the government had to spend so much producing free condoms instead of other necessities, such as giving free sanitary pads.
This has since then generated further arguments with statements such as: “Sex is a choice, menstruation is not” or “Condoms should be sold and sanitary pads should be given for free”.
Meanwhile, latest Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) national HIV household survey noted that SA has almost 500 000 new HIV infections in 2012 and that a quarter of the new HIV infections occur among women aged from 15 to 24.
The government was criticized for “wasting” money on better, scented condoms which is largely assumed to mean that poor people do not deserve to have safe sex that gives them pleasure. It suggests that they should be grateful for whatever is offered to them and they should not desire anything better simply because they cannot afford it.
However, M&G’s Bhekisisa said the country is yet to ‘know how many South African female pupils miss school each month during their periods.
The news reporter said pupils continue to rely on people such as Buthelezi or nonprofit organizations for sanitary pads every month since five years after Zuma promised to provide them.
Unfortunately, this is not enough as pupils, institutions of higher learning and public health facilities need a steady supply of these pads.
Buthelezi on her own part said she could no longer afford to buy pads for her pupils as they need a sustainable solution — one that does not depend on her purse.
“I used to buy the pupils pads with my own money, but it became expensive for me because more and more learners need them,” she said as she advocates for free sanitary pads for SA pupils
Government is therefore urged to demonstrate same dedication to the production of free pads, but not at the expense of free condoms.
This will improve the health status of mensuration pupils even as both condoms and pads seek to achieve full reproductive and sexual rights for all South Africans.