Livingstone high school fighting ‘period poverty’ with Sanitary towel vending machine
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Cape Town - In an effort to eradicate period poverty, Livingstone High School has implemented a sanitary towel vending machine, which enables pupils to access sanitary pads free of charge.
The vending machine was sponsored by the Menstruation Foundation and the initiative came as a collective effort between members of the school’s Current Affairs Society.
A pupil at the school, who is particularly passionate about the fight against period poverty, Jayden Smith said that the lack of access to sanitary towels negatively affects the education, health, and social and economic opportunities for girls.
“Young women, who cannot afford sanitary towels, will resort to using other items – such as newspapers and dirty clothes during their menstrual cycle. This can result in infections and a negative attitude towards an essential cycle. Menstruation is a natural biological function, which society should ensure girls of all ages – especially young girls – can experience with dignity. It also allows them to continue with their education uninterrupted,” said Smith.
A teacher at the school Lucille Louther said that it should be taught that period poverty isn’t a women’s issue, it is a societal issue that needs change.
“We can make sanitary towels readily available in more public spaces and the workplace, through the sponsorship of local and big businesses, because schools shouldn’t be driving initiative alone,” said Louther.
Louther argued that anyone is able to access condom dispensers, in any public bathroom, but you have to purchase sanitary towels at an expensive price. She added that organisations and institutions have a role to play in creating awareness of period poverty, and how it can be alleviated.
Zahrah Thebus said that many schools across the country, in more disadvantaged areas, have a greater need for this initiative. She said that their school was grateful for the opportunity to share this idea with the Western Cape school community, as well as drive it with the Education Department, so that it becomes a provincial or national project.
“Sex is a choice, menstruation is not. I fully stand by, and would love to see sanitary towels be made available in all spheres of society, putting an end to period poverty.
“We cannot talk about compulsory education and equality of the sexes until the WCED recognises the importance of facilitating this process, by installing these vending machines at every school in the country,” said Thebus.
In response to the issue of period poverty, spokesperson for the MEC of Social Development Sharna Fernandez, Joshua Chigome said that addressing sanitary dignity in schools was crucial to tackling barriers faced by female pupils.
Chigome said that the Department of Social Development was allocated as the designated department to tackle the issue of period poverty in schools, at which the Sanitary Dignity Programme was launched with the Department of Education, as a committee.
“As part of DSD’s first delivery phase, which commenced on Friday September 18, 2020, a total of 1.932 million pads were delivered to about 90 000 female pupils, in 221 schools across the Western Cape.
“As a provincial department, we acknowledge that the area of menstrual hygiene has only been mentioned in a limited way. This is largely due to a combination of the taboo status of menstruation which is, in part, a legacy of a patriarchal culture and the disempowerment of women living in poverty,” said Chigome.
Chigome said that it was decided by the department that the project should prioritise schools in rural areas and include special needs schools – where the need is greatest. He added that the Sanitary Dignity Programme will be enhanced by the inclusion of this aspect in the Life Orientation programmes, offered by the Department of Education, at schools.