By Thandiwe Kubere
“Menstrual hygiene is not a matter of comfort, but a fundamental human right” D. Bhaskaran
Hlokomela Banana in partnership with UNICEF, Through Her Majesty’s National Trust Fund, held a menstrual material handover ceremony as a way of lending a hand to underprivileged girls and end period poverty so that they as well can focus on their studies and reach their full potential instead of worrying when on their periods.
Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education or good sanitation facilities. Hlokomela Banana, a local non-profit organization declared it has been a long time coming, from starting the project afresh the previous year, after taking a hit from Covid, to finally sharing the fruits of what was sawn. The Project Manager of Hlokomela Banana Mpeake Sekhibane highlighted that they started with a pilot project in Mokhotlong St. James with 684 girls.
“Just before Covid, we had adopted about 20 000 girls. Covid hit, and last year we had to start from scratch. I must say where we are now, we have 6000 girls, plus the 2000 UNICEF will bring on board, which equals to 8000. We are also grateful to Lil-Lets for being part of the initiative”, he said.
The significance of the project is that it is not 8000 packs handed in one go but the girls will get support for the entire academic year so that they will not have to miss a day of school or use material that will put their health at risk.
Boxes containing a number of packs for sanitary towels summed up to 515. Hlokomela Banana was founded in 2015 as an initiative pledged to HM Queen Masenate Trust by Premier Group’s Lil-Lets pads to ensure that all girls are supported and have the essential material when on their period.
Her Majesty Queen Mamohato affirmed it was indeed a significant partnership between Hlokomela Banana initiative and UNICEF Lesotho. “You may wish to note that in my capacity as the UNICEF Champion my role is to fulfil this mandate of ensuring that lives of every Mosotho, including a girl child is taken care of, thus the partnership of Hlokomela Banana and UNICEF Lesotho is a step in the right direction towards the fulfilment of that role”, she said.
She declared menstruation should be seen for what it is, an everyday factor of live for every woman and girl. Many of the nation’s adolescent girls and young women are exposed to period poverty due to lack of resources. In order to address this challenge and ensure that girls remain in school throughout the year, Hlokomela Banana partnered with the business community and individual Basotho of good wealth to curb period poverty.
“Period poverty is an issue that affects not only the dignity of those affected, but severely compromises their health and wellbeing. It also leaves them vulnerable to embarrassing situations which severely affects their mental wellbeing and peace of mind, it makes the girls feel like societal outcasts”, said her Majesty.
She further quoted from Basotho’s profound proverb, ‘lets’oele le beta pooho’ meaning together we can do more. “We therefore applaud UNICEF Lesotho for the sizeable donation which will ascertain that an additional 2000 girls in high schools across the country, receive the materials they so desperately need. Thus bringing the total number of supplies of Hlokomela Banana 2023 to over 9000 girls in 85 schools across the country. We are truly grateful for this noble gesture”, she expressed.
Even with this, she stated they still have a long way to go so partnerships are crucial and need to be nourished. “Collaboration among different sectors of our communities to create awareness and advocacy, Lesotho can eradicate period poverty and ensure the good health, well-being and overall prosperity of every Mosotho girl and woman”, she said.
Promoting menstrual equity is key to supporting women and young girls. Menstruation is not a once in a while thing, it happens every month. Medical news revealed people who experience period poverty are unable to purchase the menstrual products they need, and in many cases, they cannot go to school or work or otherwise participate in daily life. This causes physical, mental, and emotional challenges. It seemingly makes people feel shameful for menstruating, and the stigma surrounding periods prevents individuals from talking about it.
According to Global Citizen, due to period poverty, 1 in 10 girls go out of school and is disempowered in sub-Saharan Africa. The cultural shame attached to menstruation and a shortage of resources hinder girls from going to school every day and therefore affects their performance.
But efforts to recognize period poverty as an urgent issue continue to charge forward. UNICEF Representative, Deepak Bhaskaran enlightened that though the national hygiene day has passed, the commitment to this cause remains steadfast and they will continue to work on this initiative.
“In Lesotho and around the world, menstrual hygiene is not just a matter of comfort, it is fundamental human right. Access to menstrual hygiene products is essential to women and girls to have their periods with dignity and free from stigma. Insufficient access to this products can hinder girls’ education, jeopardize their health and perpetuate gender inequality.” He declared the day was a testament of Her Majesty’s vision and their shared commitment to ensure hygiene in Lesotho. “We hope that this contribution will undoubtedly make a significant impact in adolescent Basotho girls. Your Majesty we are respectful of your leadership, and together, we will continue breaking down the barriers and make sure that every adolescent child can manage their menstruation with dignity, health and pride”, he said.
Inadequate menstrual hygiene is not a unique problem women in our country face. It affects populations around the world, especially those who are vulnerable. Some countries states, and cities around the world have passed laws mandating schools provide period products to students, deeming them as essential as toilet paper, but more work needs to be done. In fact, US federal prisons only made menstrual products free in 2018. In addition, a study from 2017 showed that nearly 1 in 5 girls had missed school due to lack of access to period products.
Menstruation stigma goes a long way. Researches around the issue disclose that communities in Nepal, for example, menstruating women are seen as impure by their community and banished to huts during their cycles. While menstrual huts are technically illegal, families continue taking the risk because myths and misconceptions are deeply rooted in Nepalese culture.
Closing the ceremony, Her Majesty acknowledged all the partners and sponsors who over the years came on board by adopting a girl child or a school. “We thank you for your commitment, indeed it takes a village to raise a child. To all the girls who will benefit from this, be proud of your femininity and persist to do well in your studies for a bright future. We hope this partnership goes even further until we reach the ultimate purpose of adolescent girls easily accessing sanitary material for free. I believe that going forth we can get our government t finally release sanitary wear to all schools for free”, she professed.