There comes a time in every woman’s life where a thick, sticky, messy fluid flows fiercely down her inner thighs, staining her skin with blood, signifying womanhood. As women you dread the monthly shedding of the lining of your uterus, menstruation. You dread getting it unexpectedly fearing to mess. You avoid wearing any white or light colours in case your pants represent a crime scene. You have this paranoid feeling of checking if, God forbid, people know you bleed through your vagina every month. You feel uncomfortable around males and uncomfortable in general. You wake up and walk awkwardly to the toilet in order to prevent the bomb of blood from exploding in your pants. That is if you didn’t bleed through the night, all the blood is released at once and you wake up to sheets drenched in blood. Not forgetting the unbearable pains that leave you in foetal positions crying for someone to put you out of your misery.
In South Africa and most parts of the world sanitary towels and tampons are taxed as luxury items, non-essential. You are probably wondering how essential it can be to stop the smelly, sticky blood from running down your legs all day for the duration of four to seven days. According to the government bleeding with dignity is a luxury, which not everyone can afford. The prices of adequate sanitary towels and tampons are high. What happens to women who come from families that barely have enough money to put food on the table? In my nine years of experience in menstruating, it never occurred to me because I was fortunate enough to choose which sanitary towels I preferred. Then it dawned on me, when the sanitary drive campaigns spread across the nation. This is an injustice against women and an emphasis on our inequality in the world. How equal are we, if our most basic necessity is regarded as a luxury?
If you are fortunate enough, you get to bleed in comfort and dignity with sanitary towels or tampons. Some women hardly have pain and bleed for at least four days. Others suffer from unbearable pain that confine them to bed and bleed for seven days. Can you imagine what it must be like to bleed without a sanitary towel or tampon, having to use toilet paper or rags as a substitute? In a township in Cape Town, Langa, girls who are unable to afford sanitary towels settle for a sock with sand in. The sand is used to prevent the blood from dripping down their legs. Imagine the discomfort of walking around the entire day with sand in a sock between your legs. As a result, in South Africa, an estimated 7 million girls from disadvantaged areas miss school every month. Some women from these areas miss work. There have been instances of women opting for tree bark, newspaper or contraceptive injections to regulate their flow during menstruation because it’s free and sanitary towels aren’t.
The taboo of menstruation contributes to inflict indignity on women and girls. Our patriarchal society is disgusted by menstruation and has forced women into silent shame. Menstruation is a beautiful thing but our patriarchal society has begged to differ, teaching us to hide and be ashamed of it. You probably cursed menstruation and struggle to find the beauty in it. How can it be beautiful when it is messy, smells and causes so much pain and discomfort? The beauty is simple: because of it you are able to reproduce. Only women are able to offer the gift of life. Welcome to womanhood, where sanitary pads aren’t “essential” according to the government, where bleeding with dignity is a luxury and menstruation without sanitary towels or tampons prevents women from attending school and work. Nationwide sanitary drive campaigns are a step in the right direction but serves as a temporary solution. It’s time for women to take a stand and fight for their rights. Women should not settle for campaigns. They should fight for the tax on sanitary products to be lifted and for it to be free for all women. Sanitary products are not a luxury but a right and it is time for the government to realise it.