Sanitary wear is considered a luxury item that is often sold at prohibitive prices for the majority of girls and women living in Southern Africa. As a result, girls who are menstruating are reluctant to go to school if they cannot afford sanitary pads or may engage in transactional sex to pay for them. Many also experience stigma and sexual harassment compounding the burden of missing school.
To overcome this problem, Pepeta Africa, an online community of young female SRHR activists from DRC, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe established by Katswe Sistahood, has launched a regional advocacy campaign called #HappyFlow.
The #HappyFlow campaign will have scheduled and synchronised events – four days every month for the next four months – to reflect the number of days of school missed by girls when they have their period.
During these four days, the young women activists will engage in events that amplify the need for free sanitary wear in schools. They will also identify Champions to engage in online activism.
Pepeta is building upon a successful campaign on access to sanitary pads in South Africa that has now led to a discussion in the South African Parliament on removal of taxation of sanitary pads and distribution of sanitary pads via the private sector.
Through Katswe, Pepeta is working with Gateway Health Institute to test an innovative low-threshold technology that gathers data on the number of girls who have access to sanitary pads to influence policy makers, while using quizzes and games to educate girls about menstruation and stigma.
They are also planning to host a meeting with SADC Parliamentary Forum in November, where they will present a signed petition to parliamentarians and show footage of stories gathered from girls who cannot access sanitary pads to serve as a basis to advocate for free sanitary pads and removal of taxation.
Support for the project is provided through Hivos Southern Africa’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Fund, with funding from the Ford Foundation.
In response to the growing need to address the SRHR needs of adolescent and youth, the Regional SRHR Fund recently awarded grants to three youth-led organizations to undertake advocacy at the regional level on critical Adolescent SRHR issues (ASRHR).
The grants have been structured as learning grants to enable grantees to develop, test and document what works and does not work in terms of the use of innovative approaches to conducting advocacy and awareness campaigns, Grantees will be using a diversity of social media and advocacy strategies that are adapted to accommodate the voice of youth.
By documenting the best practices and lessons learned from undertaking these campaigns and activities in an accessible format, it is hoped that other youth organizations in the region will be able to learn from and adapt these experiences to future ASRHR and related advocacy campaigns.