Poor township and rural KwaZulu-Natal girls would no longer have to miss school because they cannot afford sanitary pads during their monthly periods.
The province’s education department has begun distributing free sanitary pads that would last each girl six months as part of the Care4Girls programme, an initiative which focuses on impoverished and rural schools.
It is estimated that millions of South African schoolgirls aged between 13 and 19 miss one week of school every month due to a lack of sanitary pads. Some girls use unhygienic alternatives to sanitary pads, such as newspaper or even sand and leaves, which puts them at a huge risk of infection.
The department’s decision to use some of its budget to distribute sanitary pads to schools has been welcomed by children’s rights organisations, teachers’ unions, medical experts and other stakeholders, most of whom say it will not only ensure that girls have equal access to education but also that their dignity is restored.
Kwazi Mthethwa, spokesman for Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwane, told Business Day on Tuesday the department introduced a pilot programme in November 2016.
He said now they were distributing millions of pads to the province’s 11 districts.
"We have to manage this programme because we want it to focus on helping girls who are in schools. We don’t want aunties and other women to use these sanitary pads because they are there to help our female learners and to ensure that they don’t have to miss classes because they cannot afford these pads," Mthethwa said.
"We could have given the girls sanitary pads that would have lasted them a year but we have decided to distribute packs that would last only six months. This is because we don’t want to have a situation where there is a temptation from the girls and officials to sell them [the pads]," he said.
The South African Democratic Teachers Union and the National Teachers Union commended the move, saying it would help to give boys and girls an equal chance at succeeding in their educational journey.