Women call for the provision of free sanitary pads

BY Takudzwa Mahove

Women's rights groups and activist are now calling for free sanitary pads as has been done with condoms as prices of the commodity continue to be out of reach for ordinary citizens despite a suspension of import duty by the Minister of Finance late last year.  

In some parts of Zvishavane and Mberengwa women have bemoaned the continued exorbitant prices being charged for sanitary pads by retailers in the areas. The price of sanitary pads were affected by the December – January price hike regime rising from $1.00 (bond) to around $7.00 (bond) depending on the brand one chooses to buy.

The situation has mainly affected girls in rural Zvishavane. At a Bethany Project (NGO) workshop in Zvishavane earlier in the month participants who included representatives from the ministry of education, National Aids Council and villagers from rural Zvishavane participants agreed that the sanitary pads challenge was becoming a huge cause for concern and government should chip in as it did with condoms and make sanitary pads available for free.

Listen here for views on the issue

Woman shares opinion on why sanitary pads must be free

 “Nhamo iyi tagara tinayo asi pakwira mitengo apa zvabva zvawedzera kurema” (we have always had this problem but the price hikes have made the situation worse) said Mbuya Maramba from Mazvihwa Village . Grandmothers left to take care of grandchildren while their parents work in foreign countries cannot afford the pads so they have taught them to use cloths and in worst case scenarios some women are said to have used dried cow dung.

 The situation is however not limited to those in rural areas, the price hike has affected the urban populace as well.

 Several women that spoke to this reporter said sanitary pads are a basic need and since they cannot be given for free, they should at least be offered at affordable prices. They said sanitary pads are a basic need and government should at least subsidize the price as they have done with other basics.

 “Upenyu hwedu hwachinja, mitengo yezvekushandisa yakakwira pakutanga kwegore zvekuti mari yandaisichengetera Portia kuti nditenge mapads paannenge achienda kuchikoro haichakwane. Parizvino akutongoshandisa micheka nembatya dzaasisapfeki. Asi zvinonyadzisa kuonekwa tichinanika paruvazhe.” (Our life is no longer the same because of the price of these sanitary pads, I used to sacrifice a $5 to $8 each month so that Portia (Her daughter) could have pads to use during the school term. I cannot afford to buy them anymore, we have now resorted to using cloth however it is embarrassing to hang the cloths on the washing line during the day.) Said Mrs Muchada from Maglas a Shabanie Mine suburb.  

Teachers at Oasis College a private school in Zvishavane told the workshop that some girls miss lessons during their periods because they at times do not have the proper wear and chose to stay home to avoid the embarrassing moments that this time of the month presents. “Unotoona vana vachirovha or kukasira kuenda kumba panguva idzodzi zvinova zvinodisturber chaizvo especially kumaexam classes.” (You realise that girls are absent from school or they come but leave early during their monthly periods and this disturbs learning especially for the examination class students) Said Mrs White. 

This reporter made efforts to get an opinion from Former Primary and Secondary Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Chairperson and Women’s Rights activist Priscillah Misihairambwi Mushonga but she said she was outside the country and could not talk in-depth on this sensitive topic.

However in the past she has spoken strongly on this topic and she is on record calling on government to scrap Value Added Taxes to go along with the scrapped import duty so sanitary pads can be more affordable. Last year, women and women’s rights groups celebrated a move by the Minister of Finance Professor Mthuli Ncube who in his budget statement announced a temporary suspension of import tax on sanitary pads. However some are saying the impact of this removal has not been felt by the ordinary consumer as prices of pads remain exorbitant and unreachable for many citizens.