Promoting sanitary dignity

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

As the world observes Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD), the Department of Women is hosting a Sanitary Dignity Indaba to share the best practice, lessons learnt, challenges and opportunities experienced during the roll out of the programme in provinces.

MHD is an annual awareness day observed on 28 May to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management.

The day aims to bring together government, non-governmental organisations, individuals, the private sector, civil society, as well as the media to promote good menstrual health and hygiene management.

It also aims to break stigmas that exist around women and young girls experiencing their menstrual cycle.

The department, with its mandate to advance women’s socio-economic empowerment and promote gender equality, continues to champion the Sanitary Dignity Programme to provide free sanitary products to indigent women and girls in quintiles 1-3 schools.

The programme is guided by the National Sanitary Dignity Implementation Framework (SDIF), which has been drafted by the Department of Women and other stakeholders to further enhance the framework and implementation plan.

The aim of the SDIF is to promote sanitary dignity and to provide norms and standards in respect of the provision of sanitary products to indigent persons. It further seeks to promote social justice and emphasise the basic human rights of indigent persons.

The department held its national launch in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga, on 28 February 2019. The programme was also launched in Makana, Eastern Cape, on 13 April 2019, and in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, on 3 May 2019.

Minister of Women Bathabile Dlamini said the department continues to stress that sexual and reproductive health and rights education is a critical step in ensuring that girls are prepared for the changes their bodies are going through.

Dlamini reiterated that the provision of free sanitary products needs to be supported by education and awareness campaigns to address and change unhealthy menstrual practices, messages and behaviours.

“Age-appropriate social and behavioural change communication is crucial to address inequity in sanitary dignity in the country,” Dlamini said.

Break stigma around menstruation

The Minister said the ability of women and girls to manage their menstrual cycle with dignity is a human rights issue, and part of restoring this dignity is to “break the stigma that exists around menstruation by ending the silence, through education, advocacy and awareness campaigns”.

“This must be a joint effort of government. Infrastructure enablers like water supply, sanitation, handwashing facility, toilet paper and an environmentally safe and hygienic disposal system are all necessary for the implementation of the SDIF. Media organisations and civil society organisations must play their part by educating communities on menstruation and make it less of a taboo,” Dlamini said.

Interventions to manage menstrual cycle with dignity

Government has introduced a number of interventions to ensure that indigent women and girls are able to manage their menstrual cycle with dignity. In October 2018, the Minister of Finance announced the provision of free sanitary products to school girls in non-fee paying schools.

In the 2019/2020 budget, National Treasury made available R157 million to provide free sanitary pads to quintile 1-3 schools across the provinces of the country.

Dlamini said the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s decision (taken in January 2019) to allocate R275 per month to students for personal care, was hailed as a victory for women’s rights in South Africa.

“The allowance, disbursed to nearly 800 000 students, for incidental or personal care needs, will most certainly be used for personal hygiene as well as sanitary products. This allocation takes into account the whole life of the student, who comes from an economically poor background, and offers support to both young men and women to take care of their personal hygiene requirements,” Dlamini said. –