The inaccessibility of sanitary products in South Africa

Gender equality in South Africa is far from on the front of our equality goals and is often put further behind at universities where it is assumed that womxn attending are among the select few who are equal to men in these spaces just by getting in. This is false.

For many students, conceptualising a situation where their lives are restricted because they cannot access sanitary products presents a challenge, but not being able to afford pads is a sad reality for many womxn at UCKAR.

For the people that it affects, the consequences can be detrimental to their university careers. Being too poor to afford the necessary materials for dealing with menstruation should not have the power to interfere with academics and daily life. According to Celeste Mergens, founder and executive director of Days for Girls, “The lack of access [people] have to hygiene products is one of the keys to why womxn end up in roles with less leadership options, how we end up having less opportunity around the globe, and how so often violence is perpetrated against womxn.”

In South Africa alone, 8 000 000 people are without consistent access to pads. Womxn are forced to resort to alternatives such as rags, toilet paper, newspaper or used tampons and pads. Because these are not necessarily reliable options, many people will opt to remain out of the public eye for the duration of their period.

This means that for up to seven days a month they are still expected to attend tutorials and tests, yet even eating dinner in the dining hall puts them in an uncomfortable position. Having a period is not a luxury and one’s access to the necessary products should not be dependent on one’s financial situation.

While schools in KwaZulu- Natal have recently seen the launch of a governmental programme that provides pads to girls in disadvantaged schools, the same cannot be said for the Eastern Cape. However, there are some student-run initiatives around campus that are helping to make a difference. At UCKAR, there is currently #PledgeAPadThursday, which works to collect pads and donate them to those in need. Within almost all the female residences and some of the male residences, there are drives in place that encourage people to donate either money or hygiene products not limited to pads.  

One of the major barriers to the success of the project is the lack of awareness. In most female residences, almost all students who can afford to do so are becoming involved in the campaign. The same cannot be said for male residences, as many students remain unaware that these drives exist. But donating just one packet of pads or tampons can go a long way in dismantling this humiliating barrier against the advancement of womxn in the academic sphere.


Words by Shannon Lorimer