Just mention free higher education and you'll soon have a twar on your hands. But if there's one thing all South Africans can get behind, it's free sanitary pads for impoverished schoolgirls. It was surprising then that a government programme to provide KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) schoolgirls with free pads was kicked off and barely anybody noticed.
On Tuesday Facebook user Jojo Ka Sithole Sr posted a picture of the government-issue sanitary towels on social media with the comment "Into inhle iyanconywa. (A beautiful thing deserves to be praised.) Well done KZN Dept Of Education."
That was quite literally the first anyone had heard of it. The post quickly went viral, with more than 5,000 shares in less than six hours.
Could it be that after all the fuss over free sanitary pads for South African schoolgirls, we find out about it through a random social media post?
Although HuffPost SA was unable to reach KZN provincial health representative Mthandeni Dlungwana for comment, a circular posted on the KwaZulu-Natal education department's website dated January 22, states that the department "has initiated and launched a project for the provisioning of sanitary pads to indigent girl learners in selected quintile 1-4 schools in grade 4-12".
"This 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," it reads.
It's estimated that one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school at some point during their periods, and that's not to mention the indignity and health implications of using unsanitary alternatives to pads and tampons like newspaper or an old sock filled with sand. AfricaCheck has disputed these numbers. This initiative could make a huge difference in young girls' lives.
According to the circular from the department, the first packs of sanitary pads will be distributed to 2,992 schools this month. Schoolgirls will receive a pack of pads from a school official each month.
So basically, yes. It seems legit.
President Jacob Zuma promised to roll out free sanitary pads all the way back in 2011 but nothing ever seemed to come of it.
The issue has gained increasing attention over the last year or so. In 2015, media house Livity Africa ran a poll to decide which major youth issue to take to Parliament: "free sanitary towels for women" beat hot-button issues like "transforming higher education" and "police transparency" hands down. When the issue eventually made it to Parliament, MPs were broadly supportive, but again, nothing seems to have come of it. Last year Africa Check noted that pressure to roll out free sanitary pads was mounting, as were calls to remove VAT on the products.
Governments love to blow their own horns when they do well, so why did this development slip so far under the radar? Could it be that old taboos against talking about periods are just too hard to shake?
To the KZN education department, all we can say is: