The recent call by MPs for Finance minister Tendai Biti to incorporate measures that would ensure free distribution of sanitarywear could not have come at any better time.
Zimbabwe, like any other developing country, has of late been experiencing an upsurge in cases of cervical cancer, most of which have been attributed to use of rags, newspapers, cow dung and tissues.
This should not be, considering Zimbabwe is one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of cotton lint.
Already, the country is rated as having the world’s lowest life expectancy for women – 34 years – and it goes without saying that these unhygienic practices could make it drop to as low as 20 because infections will make them more vulnerable to HIV and Aids.
It’s a time bomb that needs all stakeholders – Parliament, retailers and manufacturers — to put heads together to ensure affordable sanitarywear.
But probably we might need to trace the origins of the problem.
The crisis began in 1999 when Johnson & Johnson, the healthcare manufacturer, pulled out of the country because of the worsening economic situation. Zimbabwe then had to import products from neighbouring South Africa.
The collapse of the currency and the world’s highest inflation, coupled with the political instability obtaining in the country three years ago, made the products unaffordable to all but the elite.
But with everything now seemingly on the mend, women’s reproductive health issues should not be relegated to the periphery of the nation’s priorities.
Sanitary towel prices range from $1 to $5 for a month’s supply, which is relatively high for young women who constitute the bulk of unemployed youths.
With a 250-gramme pack of cotton wool pegged at $1,50, many women from disadvantaged backgrounds are being forced to choose between their own health and the survival of their family.
A few weeks before Biti presented his 2012 National Budget statement, a group of young women marched to Parliament where they presented a petition urging legislators to advocate for provision of free sanitarywear in the coming financial year.
The march was a call to action on all stakeholders to deliver the delayed human dignity. Though it was well received, the petition’s contents seem to be gathering dust somewhere because the matter never featured anywhere near Biti’s Budget statement.
This is a shocking omission for a country that is supposed to be one of the world’s most progressive when it comes to gender equality.
Collective efforts by different players is vital and it’s time we did serious self-introspection on whether we consider sanitarywear in our budgets at all levels.
Maybe we should take a leaf from our neighbours South Africa where President Jacob Zuma premised his May 18 local government election campaign on free provision of sanitary pads for poor women.
Zuma mentioned free pads repeatedly in all his speeches before and after the elections, including somewhat awkwardly in his State of the Nation address.
The sanitary pad issue has been promoted by the ANC Youth League, which argues that if the government can provide free condoms — which it does as part of HIV and Aids prevention — then it should also provide free pads to women from poor communities as a basic human right.
Let us take a leaf from this wisdom.