Men join sanitary towels campaign

HARARE - Sometime in 2015, Sibusiso Bhebhe, a director of a non-profit organisation boarded a commuter omnibus on his way home with an older woman.

The conductor directed the older woman to sit at the back but the woman resisted, opting for a more convenient seat close to the door.

“The kombi soon filled up and we were on our way. As the old lady dropped off, the conductor insulted her saying ‘Wena mama, ungabobuya la ulamaperiods akho uzosimbuluzela (Hey lady, don’t come around here during your menstruation period to cause problems for us),’” Bhebhe said.

“That pained me. In fact, it angered me because that woman was old enough to be my mother. Above all, it showed me how uninformed we are as men about menstrual hygiene
issues. From that day, I read around the issue and have since held talks with various communities about issues affecting girls and women.”

Bhebhe is one of the few men who are using their spheres of influence to mobilise resources and purchase sanitary pads which they donate to underprivileged girls.

He has been using his position as the Dot Youth Zimbabwe director, an NGO he founded in 2012 to tackle issues affecting the youth.

Since 2016, he has donated sanitary pads worth thousands of dollars to various schools in and around Bulawayo amid revelations that underprivileged girls continue using unhygienic materials during menses because they cannot afford sanitary pads.

Some are using old rags, old newspapers, leaves, tissue and cow dung which compromises their health.

For some girls, menstruation means missing up to five school days, which might eventually force them to drop out.

Amidst these revelations, Bhebhe has challenged men to take the centre stage in advocating for free menstrual sanitary wear as well as mobilising resources.

“As men, we must play a pivotal role in empowering our girls and women. Men and boys must be engaged in menstrual health issues to influence positive attitudes amongst ourselves.”

Through his involvement in sanitary towels campaign, Bhebhe hopes to model behaviour for other young men and transform the beliefs instilled in them through socialisation.

Ngugi Vere, a Zimbabwean designer based in South Africa echoed the same sentiments, saying men’s involvement will regenerate women’s dignity and pride.

Vhere told this publication that he got involved in sanitary campaigns in 2016 upon learning about the shocking alternatives girls use in place of pads.

“I was moved to support the girl child. I devoted my monthly entertainment budget to purchase pads but it was not enough to reach girls in rural schools. That’s when I decided to use my sphere of influence as my source of donations to get the initiative going and my social media friends and close associates heeded my pleas.”

Vere, challenged male legislators to use their majority in addressing the plight of girls by providing a sustainable programme to provide free sanitary pads.

Bhebhe welcomed government’s decision to remove tax on sanitary towels, but noted that it is not enough.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube announced that government will be scrapping duty on sanitary wear, a development which is expected to reduce the cost.

Currently, pads cost between $2 and $2,50, which is beyond the reach of most families. A woman needs on average two packets during her periods.

“Government has said they are removing tax on sanitary wear and it’s a welcome move but it’s not enough to impact on price reduction simply because the girls did not afford them in the first place,” Bhebhe told the Daily News on Sunday.

He added: “The Education ministry is generally a self-funded ministry in the context of running of schools through payment of levies to the SDCs and if the ministry could just allocate a $1 from every child in the system, they will be able to purchase or even import enough sanitary pads to support the over 2 million female learners in the system.”

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