“If there is free access to condoms, so there should be free access to sanitary towels.”

By: Thoboloko Ntšonyane

LERIBE – Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso who is also the World Vision Lesotho’s Champion on Child Protection has appealed to the policy makers to facilitate provision of free sanitary pads starting from next year.

This she said during the celebration of menstrual hygiene day celebration organized by World Vision last week at Pitseng, Leribe.

It is observed internationally on May 28, and the theme for this year is “making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030”.

 “If there is free access to condoms, so there should be free access to sanitary towels. This is an emergency, this is urgent and a natural biological process [but] those ones [condoms] are not emergency,” she said promising to pester the government until it gives her ears and honour its promise.  

She continued: “Let us end period poverty and make menstruation a normal fact of life.”

She appealed to the business community and organizations to lend a hand in procuring the dignity kits for the vulnerable students in order to address period poverty, which is inability to afford menstruation kits.

Also the patron of Hlokomela Banana, which means ‘take care of the girls’, the Queen’s National Trust Fund initiative that provides sanitary kits to girls, the Queen said menstruation negatively affects orphaned and vulnerable students.

It has been reported that orphaned and vulnerable teenagers are particularly challenged during the menstrual periods as some skip classes owing to lack of sanitary products.

Her Majesty reiterated that menstruation is not a choice but it is natural requirement.

“It is therefore everyone’s responsibility to join hands to empower and help the girls to embrace this period and be proud of what God has given unto them,” she said.

She said menstruation is not supposed to be a hindrance in the lives of the girls. She thanked World Vision for “beautiful initiative” of procuring the menstruation hygiene packs for the students. 

She underscored the need for schools to have portable water and clean ablution facilities for both boys and girls saying this will inculcate cleanliness and help preserve confidence on girls.

“It is high time that we should have the conversation with the boys about menstruation, gone are the days when girls [were discriminated against],” she said adding that “we have to do away with stigma around menstruation,”  

Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso.

Ardent advocate in children’s rights, the Queen lamented the child marriages saying it poses danger to their health as their bodies cannot afford to carry a child.

She said that empowering girls will have a positive effect on the country’s development and it is in line with the treaties that Lesotho had signed for protection and advancement of their rights.

Her Majesty further urged boys to desist from discriminating against girls during their menstrual periods but support them and have open conversations with them that seek to deepen their knowledge around menstruation.

“It is high time that we should have the conversation with the boys about menstruation, gone are the days when girls [were discriminated against],” she said adding that “we have to do away with stigma around menstruation”.

It is reported that World Vision Lesotho has distributed sanitary hygiene products to over 8 000 teenagers in the past three years.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “Menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity – when people cannot access safe bathing facilities and safe effective means of managing their menstrual hygiene, they are not able to manage their menstruation with dignity. Menstruation-related teasing, exclusion and shame also undermine the principle of human dignity”.

World Vision Lesotho National Director James Chifwelu echoed the Queen’s sentiments saying menstruation is “no longer a shame or a stigma but a catalyst for a positive change”.

The National Director said in partnership with the government, World Vision continues to provide access to clean water and sanitation to learners in Lesotho across the seven districts.

“We understand that water is a very critical item or need that is required for a girl child to meet their need during this critical period of menstruation. Therefore, through our water and sanitation programme we will be digging boreholes and establishing grid of solar-powered piped water and rehabilitating non-functional water sources to ensure that the girls can access water during their critical periods [menstruation periods].

“We have set up hygiene and gender segregated friendly latrines in schools to ensure that we are inclusive for people with disabilities and girls. In our partnerships with communities, we have been ensuring that the communities take into their own hands the issues of water and sanitation. We must continue to build upon achievements and address the remaining challenges” he said.

He said they are committed to meet the most marginalized communities and ensure that “no one is left behind.”

Chifwelu added: “We must advocate for the inclusion of menstrual hygiene management in public and health policies so that it receives the attention and resources it deserves.”

He appealed for recommitment to the course, thanking the Queen, government and their stakeholders for their “unwavering support”.

It is in this event that the World Vision distributed sanitary kits to the students of Pitseng Primary School and Khethisa High School.

Appreciating the gesture, Pitseng Primary School Principal ‘Matsebo Khotlolo said lack of access to ablution facilities and portable water would impact negatively wherein this would affect school-community relations as students would relieve themselves in the fields of members of the community.

She said her students would also be expelled at the community well, and this in turn drove students to draw water in the nearby houses. She said these problems were exacerbated during the COVID-19 period where many students would bunk classes’ at an alarming rate especially menstruating girls.

The Principal thanked the World Vision for providing menstruation kits to their students, constructing the toilets for their schools and portable water, saying it should also lend a helping hand to other schools.

She said now their students manage their menstruation cycle in a dignified and healthy way.

For his part, Minister of Education and Training Prof Ntoi Rapapa urged the boys to support the girls during their menstruation periods.

He said the Ministry in concert with World Vision and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are in the process of mounting the students’ friendly policy.

Prof Rapapa said the Cabinet had agreed that from next year, there will be funds allocated for the provision of free sanitary pads promising to support the Queen’s efforts in addressing the period poverty.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities are required to enable a girl child to effectively manage their menstruation and this is in line with the goal six of sustainable development goals (SDGs) that calls for access to water and sanitation.

World Vision said “we believe menstrual hygiene is about more than just access to sanitary pads and appropriate toiles, though those are important. It is also about ensuring women and girls live in an environment that values and supports their ability to manage their menstruation with dignity”.