In an effort to address the well-documented stigmas and struggles many young girls face when it comes to their menstrual cycles and affording sanitary pads, two non-profit organisations installed a pad vending machine at Sinethemba High School in Philippi last week.
Through the initiative, O Graceland and the MENstruation Foundation aim to fill the critical need for sanitary pads in communities where girls cannot afford them.
At the launch on Tuesday June 15, the organisations said there were girls who skipped school every month because they could not afford pads, and they wanted to contribute to putting an end to “period poverty”.
The compact vending machine, does not use electricity and is installed in bathrooms. Each schoolgirl receives one token that she can use at the vending machine to retrieve one pack of eight sanitary pads a month, however, provision is made for girls who might need more than one pack.
The pads in the vending machines are locally manufactured and compostable.
Gugulethu-born comedian Siv Ngesi, who is part of the MENstruation Foundation, said the aim was to give the confidence and self-esteem to overcome the exclusion many young girls faced at school during periods.
Talking to the pupils, Mr Ngesi said: “We brought this to you because we value you. You now can be anything you want to be. There is no freedom without you.”
Springbok women’s rugby captain, Babalwa Latsha, who is a director at the Foundation, said she hoped the vending machine would ensure girls were able to take part in sport even when they are menstruating. “We want them to understand their significance. Essentially without them, there is no world. That is why we have to take care of them,” she said.
One female pupil said the initiative was long overdue. “Growing up I was never lucky enough to be able to afford sanitary pads. That means I have been aware and a victim of period poverty,” she said.
“Every time during my cycle, I attempt to keep going to school despite being unable to afford adequate protection. At some point I wrapped toilet paper and used it as my protection. But I am happy that no other girl from our school will ever endure that pain again. Thanks to MENstruation and those who saw a need to donate to the girls.”
Another teenager said; “When I was on my period I started taking time off school. It never felt good to me but I had no choice. It made my attendance bad at school and I was getting in trouble with my teachers. But I made them understand that I was not lazy but had a problem. They understood,” she told Vukani.
School principal Nelson Poopedi said one did not often hear men discussing periods and sanitary pads.
Thanking the NGO, he said the experience had encouraged him to start talking openly about menstruation, particularly as he has a daughter.
“It was not easy in our culture to talk about periods. But when I saw men who came to me speak openly, I had to and because I have girl children. It has never been easy for girls too to come to men, teachers and tell them about periods.
“Some missed school. With the machine, they do not have to miss school.” he said.
Just like the school principal, Reverend Mawande Lugongolo praised the organisation for helping “township black children.”
“During the hard lockdown we’ve seen parents who have to choose between a loaf of bread or sanitary pads for their children. That burden is now taken off their backs. This is like a dream come true for a black child,” he concluded.