'I use a sock as a sanitary pad'
Poverty forces learner to miss school or resort to extreme measures during her period.
First published in GroundUp  and reproduced with permission

Akhona is in grade eight. Like many of her classmates, she often misses school when she has her periods because her family cannot afford sanitary pads. When she has to write a test, she uses a sock, she says.

Sometimes by the time she gets her period her grandmother has no money left, she says.

“At home we are five children and I am the only girl who is old enough to go through periods. My grandmother is old. She sometimes forgets to buy pads and spends all the money on other household things, and it’s embarrassing to ask my uncles for money to buy pads”, says Akhona.

“Sometimes if I keep on asking the neighbours for pads they don’t give me because they keep on saying why don’t I buy them in advance. They do not know that I do not have money for them,” says Akhona.

Her friend Noluntu, who is also in grade eight, says she missed her class test a few days ago because her periods came early and no one had money to give her. The next day Akhona suggested she use a sock as a replacement until she could get a pad.

Langa graphic designer Thandiwe Tshabalala has launched a campaign to collect sanitary wear for schools.

On a visit to Langa High School on 5 November Tshabalala donated ten packs of sanitary pads to the school.

She says she remembers what it was like to struggle to afford sanitary pads. There were days when she couldn’t go to school because she had her period.

Some learners cannot even afford simple things like soap, says Tshabalala. “People think that anyone can afford sanitary wear. But even simple things to keep you clean, for some people it’s hard to afford them.”

Many schoolgirls use rags, newspapers or tree bark instead of sanitary pads or tampons. UNICEF estimates that one in ten schoolgirls in Africa do not attend school while menstruating (page 15).

Noluthando Kasi, a school social worker in Langa, says many children get contraceptive injections, not because they are sexually active, but from trying to control the bleeding each month because they can’t afford to buy sanitary wear. “Some of the girls take a sock and put a little sand inside the sock so that the blood won’t mess their clothing if it’s a heavy flow”, says Kasi.

Tshababala yesterday started a group in a social network, asking people to donate at least one pack of sanitary wear to poor schools.

She has created a graphic illustrating ways poor people survive, buying dishwasher instead of shampoo, and using phone directories for toilet paper.

She says she was shocked by how many black people related to the illustration.

“It seems that most South Africans are in denial about poverty. They don't want to hear about it”, she says. “Let's help the girls stay in school.”

We have had requests asking how to donate sanitary pads. GroundUp and Community Media Trust have therefore set up a box outside our office in Rondebosch. You can drop off new sanitary pads (still in their packaging) at this address:

Community Media Trust
Suite 06EB East Block
Tannery Park
23A Belmont Road

Here's an org which is helping out in this kind of situation: DignityDreams.com

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