The cost of sanitary pads should be a public health emergency

This week fact-checking ninjas, Africa Check revealed that it’s not actually seven million girls who miss school every month because of the inaccessibility of feminine hygiene products. And while the actual number of girls who miss school because the price of pads and tampons is fewer than 7 million, the price of pads and tampons should still be treated as a public health emergency.

As we’ve said before here, if you happen to own a uterus or have ever been shopping for someone who does, then you’ve no doubt noticed how ridiculously expensive pads and tampons actually are.

Activist and writer Mbali Matandela argues that the Department of Health should be prioritising sanitary health of girls as much as it is the supplying of condoms.

“If girls don’t have access to sanitary pads, their general health is affected and so is the quality of education they get because they often have to be absent from school,” said Matandela.

She added that some girls have to use newspapers and cloths as a substitute for pads or tampons, which denies them their dignity and affects the relationship they have with themselves and their bodies.

“I myself can afford pads or tampons but I know people who grew up using cloths because they couldn’t afford it and I’ve seen how it affects them. This is why calling on government to provide free pads and tampons for girls is important to me,” said Matandela.

Karabo Monatisi heads up the Sanitary Pads Campaign in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, which provides pads to girls who cannot afford to buy their own every month. Although Monatisi is a man and obvs doesn’t go on periods, but he feels that menstruation affects men as well.

“Menstruation is not just a women’s problem, it’s also a men’s problem. If my sister, mother or other women in my life don’t have pads, I’m also affected. The high cost of pads or tampons affects their health, the quality of education and robs them of their dignity,” Monatisi said.

Calculating the cost of menstruation in South Africa in 2011, Jen Thorpe figured: “In her lifetime, the average woman uses 11 000 tampons, or 22 sanitary products (pads or tampons per period).

In South Africa with the average tampon costing about R1.50 each (yes, that means R33 a period, or R16 500 in her lifetime) and a pack of 10 sanitary pads costing R18 (which translates to about R36 a period, or R19 800 in her lifetime). This means that having a period is an expense that many cannot afford. Most South Africans still live below the poverty line, which means that they must use alternative means of stemming the flow. These include using towelling or material which is rewashed. However, in some cases this too is unaffordable.”

“If the government can provide free condoms, they should be able to provide free pads and tampons.”

Featured image by Fatima Moosa

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