By Mhlomuli Ncube in Beitbridge
It is a typical scenario of hard journeys travailed in anguish. Young Chimangadzo Mbedzi wakes up at 4 am. She has to prepare for school and the distance will take about nine kilometres from her home. Stretching herself as if reaching out into the horizon for some unknown divine inspiration, the teenage girl leaves for school. Today is however a different one. Having attained puberty stage and on the passage to full adulthood, Chimangadzo has started menstruating. This has brought along situations she never knew about prior to the experience, hence the difficulties to also find her social space among her peers on a day like this one.
Along the way, young Chimangadzo pulls off the road and diverts into the bush. She plucks off leaves from an overhanging baobab tree. This is what most girls in the village use as sanitary pads at that time of the month. A local social worker in Beitbridge who has been involved with girls at this stage paints a sad tale of the situation.
“Some of the girls use tree leaves, others pieces of cloth, tree bark and in extreme cases, cow dung. There are also recorded incidents where the girls dig up a small hole in the ground and spend the day seated on it,” she narrates.
For girls still at school, they cannot afford the leisure of spending the day seated on the pit lest they miss classes. This means that the rough, uncomfortable and unhygienic tree barks, leaves and cow dung have to play the pad role in the village.
The sad part is that as all this happens, lessons at school do not adjourn to wait for the girls. A teacher in one of the far off villages says this is a situation they cannot ignore.
“The fact that we spend most of our time with these girls means that in most cases we are also playing the parent or rather mother roles. When a girl is experiencing her monthly flow, you just cannot ignore it. Sometimes you even take your own sanitary ware and give them, but there are many of them and in most cases as a teacher you cannot afford to assist more than one such situations,” says the teacher who can hardly hide her emotions when she talks about the issue.
It is also a reality that the girls in this village cannot escape that as this moment comes, it happens when their male counterparts are watching. At a stage when both are still growing up, some of the girls are even taunted by the boys.
“They look at us and start laughing. I remember one day when I experienced a flow in class and left drops on the floor. The boys in my class laughed at me for days. I couldn’t even stand in front of my peers,” one girl narrates her experiences.
All these are not just mere stories but day to day experiences which the girl without a pad in the village not only experiences but has to live with for many days of her life. Recently, a consignment of books and sanitary ware was delivered to Beitbridge District through an initiative of the highest office in the land and a corporate organisation. To Beitbridge District Administrator Mrs Kelibone Ndou, this marked an important intervention for the girl child on pad issues in the village.
“We are raising girls in very difficult times. Most of the parents cannot even afford buying them books let alone pads which are never placed on priority lists. Survival and putting food on the table comes as a priority and the pad challenge is transferred to teachers in schools. And sadly these teachers cannot ignore the girls. I have witnessed incidents where they even fork out their own money to buy pads for the girls,” says the DA.
Many girls in desperate need of that pad in the village also have to deal with the stigma of that natural monthly flow. There is a perception of being dirty and therefore being shunned not only by their male peers, but also being made to feel worthless.
A global organisation, Global Partnership for Education says in many poor communities, menstruation is still often seen as an embarrassing, shameful and dirty process. The organisation notes that, “Such taboos around the topic mean many adolescent girls are often unprepared for their periods and how to manage them. Less than half of girls in lower- and middle-income countries have access to basics such as sanitary towels or tampons, soap and water, or facilities to change, clean, or dispose of hygiene products.” In the reality of these day to day struggles, the village girl still remains with that all important but yet to be fulfilled need.
In the reality of these day to day struggles, the village girl still remains with that all important but yet to be fulfilled need.
A pad and a girl in the village; the story goes on. In search of a national consensus, that society is yet to arrive at; many little ones still go on as if everything is normal.