Schooling girls in Zambia are faced with many challenges, among them the inability to afford the highly taxed sanitary pads, which account for customs duty and value-added tax. This forces them to miss school on the menstrual periods days for fear of embarrassment. Also, some of the girls develop low self-esteem because they are not being supported on the issue of menstrual health and hygiene.
According to Sebastian Kopulande, a lawmaker in the Zambian Parliament, the girls’ education will only be uninterrupted if the customs duty and value-added tax on menstrual products are removed. Better still, making the products accessible at zero cost would do the girls a great favor. He arguably concluded that the same way condoms are provided free of charge in the same schools, the menstrual products should also be given free of charge. This will foster gender equality in schools as well as play a significant role in making the quality of the girls’ education.
The motion for free distribution of sanitary pads to the schoolgirls has been adopted unanimously for quite a long time. Though it is not yet a law, the Zambian government is being pushed by the parliament to fund the initiative in its next year’s budget. By providing the finances for the distribution of free pads in the schools, the government will keep many girls in the school and ensure nothing disrupts their studies. On top of that; the distribution of such crucial products will give the girls an opportunity of appreciating their reproductive health, raise their self-esteem.
Mr. Sebastian Kopulande says that in his constituency alone, 70% of girls cannot afford menstrual products. Such numbers are overwhelming, indeed. So what happens? Many of them miss school at that time of the month and as a result; miss out a lot on their education. It’s also evident that some of these girls engage in what is called ‘transactional sex’ whereby they give out their bodies in exchange for money to buy sanitary pads. Sadly, poverty pushes the village girls to such extreme behaviors. So, if the government heed to the plea, morals in the society will get back to normal, and the world will be a better place.
The government has been slow in implementing the plan for free sanitary pads. According to Mr. Sebastian, the lawmaker, for the last consecutive three years, funds have been allocated for distributing 14,000 sanitary pads to rural areas. The problem that is here is the government has not yet released these funds so that the program can be rolled out. This delay has made everything to a standstill. Therefore the government must be pushed to act as early as now!
The initiative for free distribution of sanitary pads will be available to rural and peri-urban schools. This is because these are the places where young girls are vulnerable due to high poverty levels. Supporting girls in such a critical area gives them a chance to be empowered with education. As a result, such girls become better leaders who are ready to bring change to the society and the world at large. The government of Zambia will play a significant role in the girls’ bright future if they roll out this long-awaited program.