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Sanitary Products for Underprivileged Girls

Pictured at Groendal Primary School: Michelle Aalbers (S.M Manager of Community Development), Therize Von Tonder (School Social Worker), Manie Pieterson (Councillor), Vanessa Ronald (Senior Brand Manager, BBF S.G), Charlene Dunn, Sonke Gender Justice Team

In commemoration of Youth Month, Sisi, a safety wear brand for women within the BBF Safety Group, has partnered with the Stellenbosch Municipality and the Department of Education to donate reusable sanitary pads to 427 girls, across seven schools, in the greater Stellenbosch area.

Sisi has brought much needed awareness around the differences between the anatomy of men and women and the need for gender specific-personal protective equipment in the workforce, to improve productivity and comfort to working women. The brand wanted to address the issues surrounding absenteeism of young girls from school due to the unaffordability of sanitary hygiene products when menstruating.

According to a study by the Stellenbosch University’s Law Clinic, about 30% of girls in South Africa miss school when they are menstruating, because they cannot afford sanitary products. As such, a girl could lose about 90 days of schooling a year.

Many can’t catch up on vital schoolwork, ruining their end-year results, and their chance to earn grades that would qualify them for tertiary education.

“This is such an exciting project. It’s not just about donating sanitary pads to these girls; it’s about giving them a future. As a rising number of working women enter into areas once deemed the preserve of men, it is important that girls’ receive a solid education that qualifies them to receive tertiary education in the fields of commerce and sciences,” says Vanessa Ronald, Senior Brand Manager at Sisi.

Along with professional organisations, such as Sonke Gender Justice, a South African-based non-profit organisation working throughout Africa, the initiative is also educating these girls about the changes that occur in their body once puberty begins. It not only reassures them that menstruation is a natural process that every woman goes through, it also touches on issues relating to a girl’s right to protect herself and her body from advances by men that make them feel uncomfortable.

Through this initiative, supported by the Department of Health, nurses from the clinics in the area have met with the young women and explained the right that these young ladies have to healthcare. They encouraged them to seek advice if they were experiencing problems or had further questions relating to menstruation and the changes that occur in their bodies as they enter women-hood.

“What’s even more encouraging is that we have formed a partnership with the Stellenbosch municipality and the Department of Education to expand our reach on an annual basis and encourage other key players in industry to get involved to make a difference,” says Ronald.

Stellenbosch Municipality Communications Manager Stuart Grobbelaar says the municipality is aware that absenteeism from school due to a lack of sanitary products is a reality for many.

“We therefore wanted to get involved in this initiative in a sustainable and collaborative way that builds relationships and connects with different stakeholders instead of just gathering donations to be dropped off at schools,” he says.

“We think long and hard about how to allocate our CSI funds as we don’t just want to be a corporate that signs a cheque; we want to understand the challenges that are facing a community and provide sustainable solutions. These pads were specifically chosen because they are reusable and are designed to last for five years. As a result, we reduce the monthly demand on sanitary products by these young girls, which in turn allows us to expand our reach,” adds Ronald.

The reusable Subzpads are developed, designed and manufactured by Sue Barnes, founder of Project Dignity, and are made of five layers of specialised fabrics.

“It’s an all-fabric product that uses no chemicals or gels for absorption and is essentially a health product that is also eco-friendly,” adds Ronald.

A social worker has welcomed the initiative, saying it’s vital that the scourge of period-related school absenteeism be addressed and that girls are also taught about the changes to their bodies during puberty, setting them up to make more responsible decisions during their schooling years.

She says, “When young girls experience their first period, they are often unsure of what is happening to them and think that they are suffering from a disease. They even fear that they are dying.”

A principal of one of the participating schools has also welcomed the project, saying that period-related absenteeism is a huge problem in some communities and has a profound effect on the girls’ long-term education.

“Their absence from school during their primary years heavily impacts the foundation of vital subjects, making the chances of success in these subjects more challenging as they progress through the school system,” he says.