Menstrual hygiene poverty rife among adolescents in Masvingo Province
Poko Maranda*, 15 is a learner at Maranda High School in deep rural Mwenezi district in Masvingo province. Like many young girls of her age her menstrual periods are characterized by sharp pain and heavy bleeding. Sadly, her parents are all late and a well-wisher is paying for her school fees. Poko cannot afford proper sanitary ware. She regrets having periods.
By Herbert Chikosi (Masvingo Province)
“My periods are very painful. I experience heavy bleeding which makes me miss class for the first 3 days because I do not have money to buy pads. I usually use rags or raw cotton which we pick in the fields. However, I do not feel comfortable to move around with it because it forms a bulge when it is soaked with blood. For the pain and diarrhoea it is a matter of endurance every month because we live far away from the nearest health centre. The traditional concoction which I am supposed to take is very bitter and I cannot take it anymore,” says Poko with a sullen look on her face.
To ease the pain Poko was advised to have sex towards the beginning of her menses to relax her cervix a traditional practice called “kutsindira” in the belief that the pain will go away. “I was advised by the local women to practice “kutsindira” having sex to relax my cervix as stage gap measure to stop menstrual pain, but when I did that I contracted an STI, while my other friends got pregnant. In view of this, I am determined to endure the pain so that I will finish my school and look after my siblings”. Unlike others, Poko is determined to finish her school and she is looking forward to realizing her dream of becoming a nurse.
“As an orphan, I am determined to work hard so that I will become a nurse. I cannot be like other girls who have boyfriends who buy those pads. I know Dhizora* the local taxi driver is doing that to many girls, but I will not do that”, she said with a chuckle. Many young girls of Poko’s age in Maranda narrated how the culture of silence around MHM issues has negatively impacted their lives. Some indicated that their parents cannot prioritize pads as they skirt that subject as a taboo. “The moment I ask my parents about pads they will change the subject. I have no choice but to have a BF, (sic boyfriend) who will provide them for me. “Says, Maita Kwaga with a straight face.
Asked if the said BF is not a married man or older person, and when he demands sex what she will do to which she said, “totangira ipapo”, translated as “we will cross the bridge when we are there.”
‘If ever BF demands sex we will see what to do, I am not the only one all the girls around here does that Dhizora* blesses many of young girls in his mobile bedroom.’ Available data reveal that Mwenezi district is one of the most affected districts in Masvingo with high teenage pregnancies and early marriages at around twenty percent. In some cases school pass rate is way below the pregnancy rate.
Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council works with Plan international, by supporting comprehensive MHM programmes within rural schools and community settings through training of mentors, comprehensive information dissemination and distribution of sanitary pads to young girls. The intervention has been expanded to equip rural schools to make reusable sanitary pads within their context to ensure sustainability. Of late Kunashe Foundation, a local charitable organization has come on board to assist with reusable sanitary pads, pad making materials and training for adolescent and young girls through ZNFPC.
*not real names