The KwaZulu-Natal Education Department quietly rolled out a new campaign adding free sanitary pads for girls to the new school year.
For many privileged young girls in South Africa menstruation is not a factor that would typically affect their school attendance. However, throughout South Africa as many as two million girls miss some days of school each month just because they cannot afford basic sanitary pads.
The lack of this basic need shouldn’t result in absences, and girls should not miss out on an education – and subsequently a career – as a result.
The KwaZulu-Natal education department plans to distribute free sanitary pads to 2 992 schools in the province in an effort to reduce the dropout rate among girls. In a recent statement, the department said four packs per student will be distributed to schools in lower income communities focusing on girls from Grade 4 to Grade 12.
The initiative seeks to reduce the drop-out rate of girl learners – caused by missing out on school, due to not being able to afford sanitary pads.
The principal of each school will be responsible for the distribution of the sanitary pads to pupils in grades 4 to 12. According to the department, each pupil will receive a pack each month.
Kwazi Mthethwa, spokesman for Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwane, told Business Day on Tuesday the department introduced a pilot programme in November 2016.
He said now they were distributing millions of pads to the province’s 11 districts.
“We have to manage this programme because we want it to focus on helping girls who are in schools. We don’t want aunties and other women to use these sanitary pads because they are there to help our female learners and to ensure that they don’t have to miss classes because they cannot afford these pads,” Mthethwa said.
“We could have given the girls sanitary pads that would have lasted them a year but we have decided to distribute packs that would last only six months. This is because we don’t want to have a situation where there is a temptation from the girls and officials to sell them [the pads],” he said.
The South African Democratic Teachers Union and the National Teachers Union commended the move, saying it would help to give boys and girls an equal chance at succeeding in their educational journey.