Urgent call for Zambian government to legislate reusable menstrual sanitary pads in public schools!

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Urgent call for Zambian government to legislate reusable menstrual sanitary pads in public schools!

Taxing menstrual products is like taxing a school going girl for being a girl. Maboshe Memorial Centre – MMC has been lobbying from the Zambian Government for the distribution of free sanitary pads to school going girls who can’t afford to buy pads in all public schools mostly in rural schools.

According to the United Nations, one in 10 girls in the African continent misses her school while menstruating.  In Zambia, the picture is no different. Girls between 10 and 16 years are severely affected by the lack of proper sanitation facilities, including toilets, water, clean surroundings and sanitary napkins. The report done by Maboshe Memorial Centre – MMC, titled PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE MENSTRUAL HYGIENE MANAGEMENT (MHM) AND SANITATION FOR SCHOOL GOING GIRLS IN RURAL SCHOOLS IN 2019, highlights the challenges girls face while managing menstruation, and how most of them resort to using unhygienic materials instead of sanitary pads. Traditionally, torn cloths, cow dung, dirty rags or mattress pieces, newspaper or even sand and leaves are used as a soaking medium. Due to the discomfort of using these materials, girls prefer to discontinue their studies and stay back home. 

In many rural public schools, there are no supportive facilities like hygienic toilets and privacy where girls can help themselves during their menstrual periods. Imagine having toilets which have no doors where anyone could peek in at any moment, due to these challenges girls are forced to make a decision of skipping school, they prefer to stay home than to face the embarrassment in front of their peers, many of them are unable to speak out their problems because of the taboos, this taboo need to end with proper education, but first, free sanitary pads need to be provided, so that no one has to miss school because of their period.

If we do not set up the systems in place that allow provision of free sanitary pads to girls in rural public schools, we risk increase in girls dropping out from schools. However if we do get this to happen, we will allow all girls to confidently attend school without having to worry about the embarrassment of their period letting them down. They will focus on their studies and reduce the number of school dropout. The provision of free pads to girls in rural public schools should go in hand with building proper infrastructures i.e. toilets, pit latrine, water systems etc. Since 2019, the Zambian parliament has unanimously adopted a motion for the free distribution of sanitary pads in rural schools, although the motion is not law, it means the government must provide funds for the distribution of sanitary pads in the 2020 budget.

The move comes after Maboshe Memorial Centre – MMC carried out a survey study on PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE MENSTRUAL HYGIENE MANAGEMENT (MHM) AND SANITATION FOR SCHOOL GOING GIRLS IN RURAL SCHOOLS IN 2019 observed that most menstrual products are expensive and pupils in rural areas cannot afford to buy them. The survey study urged the Ministry of Finance to consider removing customs duty and value-added tax on menstrual products and questioned why poor female students are not entitled to free sanitary pads when condoms are distributed free of charge. The survey study also urged the Ministry of Finance to consider national budgets allocation for the distribution of more than 14,000 sanitary towels in rural schools, which government had not yet released the money”. The motion comes after Zambian parliament scrapped taxes on sanitary products in a bid to make them more affordable. Zambia’s government has decided to provide sanitary pads to girls enrolled in rural public schools, to encourage more students to come to class. It was disheartening that colossal sums of money were being embezzled as revealed by the Auditor-General's Report while female school learners suffer menstrual poverty with little attention and resources accorded to their plight. The PETITION FOR A LAW ON FREE REUSABLE MENSTRUAL SANITARY PADS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS successfully bicycle riding kicked off on the 7th March, 2022 from Mongu, to Livingstone and ends up in Lusaka at the State house where the petition will be handed over to the Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema seeking to have the government provide free sanitary towels to girls in public schools. Why should our Government providing free condoms in every public institution, adding that if that is feasible, then there is no absolute reason why the State cannot provide the sanitary towels to school going children.

The provision of sanitary products to school girls is essential to upholding their inherent right to human dignity respected and protected. Period poverty is a major social issue in Zambia. There are many school going girls within our communities lacking access to menstrual care products due to financial restraints. We want the Government to provide sanitary pads for every school going girl who can’t afford to buy pads.

Maboshe Memorial Centre – MMC which works to combat period stigma and distributes menstrual products in rural schools of Western, Zambia— has released a petition asking people of Zambia to support free menstrual products in public schools across the country. The petition is part of a partnership between Maboshe Memorial Centre – MMC and girls in public schools who can’t afford to buy sanitary pads. Maboshe Memorial Centre – MMC we would like to urge the Zambian Republican President Hakainde Hichilema and lawmakers to come up with a free sanitary pads law that will ensure the provision of free sanitary pads in public schools. The law should state that every girl registered at a rural public school should be given “free, sufficient and quality sanitary products” as well as “a safe and environmental sound mechanism for disposal”.

The provision of sanitary products to school girls is essential to upholding their inherent right to human dignity respected and protected, There is need for concerted efforts by all stakeholders, especially politicians, to find a lasting solution to menstrual poverty which has affected many female school learners, adding that the situation has become worse with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many female menstruating learners prefer staying at home instead of going to school due to lack of menstrual hygiene management facility tools in schools. The New Dawn government should ensure free provision of sanitary pads the same way condoms were distributed because they hinge on the girl child's welfare because many girls miss school for about 21 days every term during their menstrual period. This means that if this issue is not addressed, it will make the attainment of gender equality and girls' education far-fetched.

The goal of the Maboshe Memorial Centre – MMC is to ask for legislation for free sanitary pads for school girls in public schools mostly in rural areas in Zambia funded by government budget. Maboshe Memorial Centre – MMC would like to spread awareness and build public support for the campaign before reaching out to the Republican Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and lawmakers to pass a free sanity pads law in providing free menstrual products to all school going girls in public schools across Zambia.

Everyone can participate in the campaign by following our link on: - www.change.org/p/zambian-republican-pres...ds-in-public-schools

Issued by the Maboshe Memorial Centre (MMC) Media Team.
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