As the world prepares to commemorate Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May 2019 – also International Day of Action for Women’s Health – a group of influential SA women, led by Prof. Thuli Madonsela, is hard at work preparing to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. They will be trekking in aid of raising funds for sanitary wear and education for young girls in SA.
Sponsored by LexisNexis South Africa and scheduled to summit on Women’s Day, 9 August, the Thuli Madonsela Women’s Day Executive Climb is the second of two summit groups in this year’s annual Trek4Mandela initiative, the first reaching the top on Madiba’s birthday, 18 July.
Trek4Mandela aims to raise enough funds for the Caring4Girls menstrual hygiene and education programme to reach one million disadvantaged girls in 2019 and two million by 2020. Between inception in 2012 and the previous climb in 2018, Imbumba Foundation and Caring4Girls raised funds for more than 11 million pads through corporate social investment, climbers and in-kind donations, distributing these to more than 750 000 girls.
LexisNexis CEO, Billy Last, said the legal tech company was attracted by this worthy cause as well as its relationship with Professor Thuli Madonsela. “When Professor Madonsela invited LexisNexis to be part of the executive climb in August and to support the Caring4Girls initiative, it was a no-brainer for us. We are excited to work with Professor Madonsela, as well as Imbumba Foundation and Caring4Girls CEO, Richard Mabaso, and to make a difference in bringing sanitary protection to hundreds of thousands of young, disadvantaged girls. We’re also excited to have two of our own dynamic women joining Professor Madonsela’s expedition in August and doing their own fundraising for this commendable initiative.”
In 2016, there were an estimated 2.6 million girls aged 9 to 20 in South Africa. According to research released by Stellenbosch University’s Law Clinic in 2018, 30% of South African girl learners miss school when menstruating because they have limited access to or simply cannot afford adequate menstruation products A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. Still other studies show that the majority of girls in Africa miss up to 50 days of schooling each year because they don’t have access to this basic need.
Whatever the figures, it is a situation Caring4Girls hopes to change. Feminist writer and researcher Jen Thorpe last year explored the cost of having a period in South Africa and estimated that the amount the average woman will spend on sanitary products in her life could be between R15k and R39k.
This is why various organisations were calling for an end to taxes on sanitary and other feminine hygiene products – a step eventually taken by the South African government when Value Added Tax (VAT) was scrapped on sanitary pads in South Africa from 1 April 2019. Previously only 19 basic food items were exempt from VAT.
Poor‚ vulnerable and marginalised women and girls often cannot afford essential hygiene products and are forced to turn to alternative options that are mostly unhygienic and pose serious health risks such as UTI’s, yeast infections, bad odour, toxic shock syndrome and fertility issues.
These issues are not unique to South Africa, as schoolgirls and women across the globe are forced to resort to using unsanitary materials and products to manage their monthly flow. In West and East Africa, young girls have been taught by their female elders to use material including newspapers, toilet paper reinforced with sellotape, cow dung patties, cow dung powder, raw lint cotton, goatskin skirts, rags, leaves and corn cobs.