Growing up, we were taught to speak in hushed tones whenever we felt the need to discuss anything related to the female menstrual cycle, the only exception being the rare occasions when the biology curriculum dictated that we speak about it in public. What happened during “that time of the month” was a secret that only we women were allowed to know.
Because I didn’t know any better, I too quickly adopted this secretive attitude towards what made me a woman. I grew to be embarrassed of my body’s biological actions and for a larger part of my teenage hood, I wished I could find ways to avoid what would inevitably come every single month. Walking into a shop and buying sanitary towels was probably the one incident responsible for the most nerve wrecking and embarrassing moments in my adolescent years. These products, displayed in shops so unashamedly made a coward of me more times than I can mention in this article. Needless to say though, I happened to be one of the lucky few who was able to purchase sanitary towels to use during my periods. Whilst most girls were exempted from this particular source of misery, it wasn’t by choice but by circumstances beyond their control. But because I personally experienced no hustles in procuring sanitary wear, it never dawned on me that other girls my age could not afford to use pads during their time of the month and I carried on with life blissfully unaware how privileged I truly was.Privileged, yes, because I have now come to realize that it’s not every woman/girl in Zimbabwe who can afford to include pads/tampons/cotton wool in their monthly budget. And because of the silence and mystery surrounding menstruation, it is easy to take women’s menstrual hygiene for granted. It is easy to assume that menstruation is easy for all of us. It is easy to believe that all is well for women and girls in Zimbabwe. Without any statistics or readily available information on this topic, it is easy to ignore what I talk about in this article as unfounded facts and headless chatter yet it is closer to the truth than we all have been led to think.
Wives and girlfriends are also not given any special treatment with regards to this issue as they are socialized to believe that menstruation is a taboo subject not to be talked about during courtship with their prospective spouses. This is because the topic could potentially gross out their partners or be the source of unnecessary awkwardness during conversations. But how can one truly love someone without knowing what they experience? How can one enjoy meaningful relationships when in constant shame of what makes them who they are? And how does one live life substantially when fear and misunderstanding is a constant monthly visitor? Perhaps this explains why most men are misinformed about what really happens during that time of the month.
But for one young man in Bulawayo, lack of knowledge in feminine hygiene did not deter him from trying to find ways to help the ladies. Spurred by an incident that occurred in a commuter omnibus when an elderly lady was publicly humiliated by a conductor simply because she was on her period, he resolved to be the one who would stand up for the rights of those victimized because of their biological make up. Sibusiso Bhebhe is a young man living in Bulawayo, who decided to venture into a road less travelled by those of his sex by choosing to willingly know more about women and the challenges they experience in their quest to live life to the fullest regardless of their monthly flow.
The first time I heard about Sibusiso was through a picture posted in a church group by one of my friends. The picture was of a young man asking for sanitary towels instead of birthday presents for his birthday. Curious, I inboxed the friend who had posted the picture to find out more about the man in the picture. She then linked me up with Sibusiso and over a cup of coffee at Café Mnandi in Bulawayo, several months after the aforementioned picture was posted, we managed to talk about women and change leadeship. At 27 years old, Sibusiso is part of a three men trio who decided to partner in the formation of a youth led organization called Dot. Youth in 2012. The other two gentleman make up the trio are Yemurai Nyoni and Fungai Mukwarimba who are equally as passionate about women as Sibusiso is. Dot youth is a youth led organization whose core mission is to create an enabling environment for youth to participate in development. The organization has since spread its reach further than the borders of Bulawayo and have now started to work with youth in the city of Masvingo. Their hope is to one day be able to harness youth from all over Zimbabwe to invest in this cause. And as Sibusiso said during the course of the discussion, women need to be more empowered in order for them to be able to partake more in decision making within their families and societies. However, women cannot be sufficiently empowered unless their primary needs such as access to good sanitary hygiene are met.
Currently Dot Youth has partnered with My Age Zimbabwe in the Ipad (Ndebele slang word meaning the pad) campaign. The campaign seeks to engage communities in Bulawayo and Masvingo to come up with sustainable strategies for meeting the needs of girls with Menstrual Hygiene Management as an entry point. The campaign is implemented in partnership with the Min of Women Affairs Gender and community development, Min of Youth Indigenisation and other stakeholders.
Sibusiso Bhebhe and his friends are doing the best they can with the little that they have, if you too would like to lend a helping hand to this worthy cause either through idea generation, donation of pads or in any other way that I haven’t mentioned, please add your comments below to initiate the conversation.