When I was young, my mother took an opportunity one day to school me about how to use cloth as sanitary wear in a hygienic manner. I half listened to her because then discussing such seemed such a waste of time, as my family was certainly safely upper middle class. Furthermore, both of my parents were such hard-workers; my father a psychiatric matron at the then top hospital in Harare and my mother successfully making and selling crotchet stuff in South Africa. From her trips she brought us endless goodies, from second hand clothes (mazitye) that were trendy in South Africa but new and very stylish in Zimbabwe, to big bags of packs of sanitary pads.
So I wasn’t too wrong to give a deaf ear to my mother at that moment. But neither was she. Years later my mother died, the economy changed and with these new developments many things also changed. One day, I did find myself without a big bag of packs of pads, and having to use cloth-the hygienic manner just as my mother had taught me. It took me (and the family) some time to finally settle down.
Besides learning that even if all pipes in the house are brand new, you still need to have a tool box in your house, I also leant that a a good mother teaches her children everything for all types of weather. I also learnt that if a young woman from a middle class family of nine could at any one point end up resorting to using cloth, what of an orphan, or those girls in low income-earning families, in this harsh economic environment?
Sanitary towels seem cheap at first glance. For just $2 you can buy a pack of ten pads. But how many pads does the average girl/woman need per monthly flow, every month? What is the minimum income for lower class families in Zimbabwe? What percentage of the Zimbabwean population earns this and above?
Sanitary towels are not a luxury. Every month, every woman past menarche before menopause shall bleed and shall need sanitary wear. Unless pregnant, women cannot take a break and decide to continue menstruating later. Just as surely as we all know we shall get hungry sooner or later and we shall need to have food ready for ourselves and our families, so will the menstrual flow come- rest assured- each month. Reusable options are not yet readily available, so every month we use and dispose of the pads, then need some more next month.
I am a strong believer that the price of sanitary wear can be lower than it is. The price of the production of such products too, should not be high. And the creation and sustainability of such companies locally could/should be subsidised and encouraged, as a matter of need.
Besides sanitary wear, menstrual health is much broader. It covers other very important issues such as dysmenorrhea and it’s effects on both adolescence and older women. It covers fibroids in older women and how now they are affecting women at an even earlier stage in life. It covers reproductive health before, during and after bearing children.
The renaissance of Zimbabwean traditional values such as, ‘It takes an entire village to bring up a child’ and ‘Musha mukadzi’ is precisely what we need to invest in. In ancient Zimbabwe, there was a communal structure to life. Throughout all our documented history I have never read of orphans. I doubt that we did not have people whose parents had died, but their being orphans was de-emphasised by the fact that an aunt, an uncle or a grandparent would immediately inherit them. It did not look like an adoption because even before the parents’ death, all elders were looking after all the children. In those times, young boys and girls had their aunts and uncles teaching them about what was going to start happening to their bodies soon, and how to look after themselves then after. In those times, grandmother knew what herbs to feed the little girl to ease the pain that sometimes comes with menstruation.
Nowadays we have orphanages, homes with wonderful women and men who have dedicated their lives to bringing up those children whose parents are no longer around for them. We have schools filling in the gap of aunts and uncles, teaching our children about menstruation and such.
However, because we are Africans and it is our duty to retain the positive aspects of our culture, I say lets go back to our ancient values of helping each other to bring up a fine generation of young Zimbabwean women. Let us make it our duty to help- in any manner we can- children’s homes, youth groups, schools and such. Many young girls grow up now without proper guidance, not just on menstrual matters but on women life matters.
We can offer our time, visit and talk to these young girls about career opportunities in our industries, talk to them about how we met our husbands and how it was important to wait on the Lord, or even read them a good book to cultivate a healthy reading culture.
There is so much we can offer without necessarily shrinking our pockets. The HopePAC (Pad Access Campaign) focuses primarily on encouraging positive menstrual attitudes through menstrual health education ,packaged artistically, to promote female quality of life and well being. The campaign also offers a platform for sharing beyond pads. While we deliver pads we offer concerts and talks on career opportunities in the creative industries in Zimbabwe and beyond. To that end, I look forward to hosting you also, so that as we deliver pads and menstrual health talks, we also deliver inspirational talks on career building and career opportunities in your different fields. I shall be knocking on your doors soon.
I thank you.