There is a book I ready some years ago by Anita Diamant called The Red Tent that refers to the biblical Jacob’s tribe and its women, who must, according to ancient law, take refuge during menstruation and births. It became a rallying cry for all women to stand together and realise their God-given place in life as the bearers of life.
The history of menstruation is a long one, however we fast forward to today and whilst we now have the different products that aid during a girl’s or a woman’s cycle, the issues still remain the same and accessibility for these products remain a major challenge.
Sanitary Pads, Stigma and Accessibility
Cultural attitudes, while varying country to country, make it very hard to advocate to policy-makers that sanitary pads, for instance, become freely available.
Organizations, both international and local, have from time to time come up with initiatives that target the rural communities and schools in a bid to not only rid the subject of the stigma but also ensure that school going children do not have to miss out on their development due to lack of proper sanitary products and care. To think that some women and girls in Africa will use anything from newspaper, leaves and rags is an infringement on basic human rights and furthermore becomes a major health issue which has serious public health consequences.
Having a Period – Unaffordable and no one wants to talk about it…
An article written by Abigail Higgins called Having a period is unaffordable in Kenya, yet no one wants to talk about it (The Guardian, January 2017), in part says that ‘the Kenyan government is considered a global leader on access to sanitary products. It repealed added tax on pads and tampons in 2004 to lower the price – a tax that still exists in the US – and since 2011, with the help of ZanaAfrica, the government has allocated money to distribute free pads to school girls’ though it continues to say that ‘but this programme hasn’t always been implemented well. Sometimes pads are stolen and or supplies run out. Also, it’s unclear whether the programme has improved school attendance in Kenya’.
With this lack of accountability, it is clear that there is no adequate follow-up on funds collected and spent on sanitary wear and its usage and distribution where it is needed the most.
Sanitary Pads in Schools: What is to be done?
Whilst the distribution of free sanitary towels in schools has been ‘shrouded by controversy and graft with reports of illegal tenders’, we must have certain duty of care not only as a government but also as a people to be able to call to account each and every chain of command on the distribution and management of the funds and the much-needed sanitary wear.
We can start with some of the following basic rules
1. Publish public government financial statements on a quarterly basis
so that the public are aware of any adverse financial impact of government decisions have and make the public aware of any discrepancies.
2. Ensure precise and clear accounting procedures in public financial management and provide an accurate financial picture on what the challenge is and how to mitigate and avoid misallocation of resources, reduced financial resilience, enhanced financial risk, and reduced transparency.
3. Reduction on tolerance of corruption through big data and analytics and provide robust tools that will equip the government to identify these behaviors and fraudulent activities.
4. Public Financial Management refresher courses where government personnel must exhibit and showcase prowess in spending public funds in a cohesive and transparent way and the management of the same. This must be followed up with grading systems that allows for review of performance.
Whilst this to-do list is by no means exhaustive, we as a people need to also be accountable and play an active role in public expenditure as this affects us all and most importantly the future female generation.