By Pontsho Pilane
Early one school morning I woke up to a soaked nightdress and wet sheets. With heavy eyes, and in a state of panic, I jumped out to switch on the light to figure out what had happened.
My bed sheets were drenched in blood – my blood. I checked to see if I was hurt and realised that I was actually menstruating. I was having my first period!
I showed my mother my stained nightie. She was in shock; perhaps reality hit her that her little girl wasn’t so little anymore.
She helped me clean up the sheets and mattress as she told me how to take care of myself now that I was “grown up”.
“I changed my pad too often, and by lunchtime I had finished all five pads”
As I left for school, she stashed five pads into my schoolbag and told me to be discreet when taking the pads out of my bag to go to the bathroom during class.
That day, I guarded my bag better than Secret Service agents, Tom Larsen and Hal Rimbeau, guarded President Grant when he snuck out of the White House to go see Olivia Pope in The Fixer.
I was terrified I would bleed through my tunic so I changed my pad too often, and by lunchtime I had finished all five pads my mother had given me.
I knew I had to go to Miss Tlou, my guidance teacher, to ask for more pads to get me through the day.
Reneilwe, a friend who was a grade above me found me crying in the toilet. I was nervous. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was on my period.
Young girls shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of menstruation
Miss Tlou gave me the pads and told me that I shouldn’t feel ashamed. She echoed my mother’s words and told me this is all part of growing up.
Menstruation is not only daunting when but it is also quite uncomfortable.
That combined with the stress of not having a sufficient supply of sanitary towels is double the burden.
This burden, which I have been privileged enough for it not to be my reality, is why I entered Live Magazine’s Parliament Challenge.
According to Dignity Dreams, an NGO that makes and distributes reusable sanitary pads, on average a girl will miss 60 days of school because of her period.
This means that girls are more likely to not do as well as they could in school simply because they are menstruating – something that is completely out of their control.
Schoolgirls are using socks filled with sand instead of sanitary pads
In Langa, Cape Town, schoolgirls are using socks filled with sand instead of sanitary pads.
Some girls are using contraceptives to regulate their period because they cannot afford to buy pads every month.
While Africa Check shows that black women between the ages of 15 and 34 constitute 49.1% of unemployed in this country; would it be far-reaching to assume the increased absenteeism of poor black schoolgirls also contributes to this?
I don’t think so.
And that is why now, more than ever, our government should start providing free sanitary products for the underprivileged girls and women.
Image supplied by Pontsho Pilane
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