Access to free sanitary pads has been on the table for multiple years and countless ministers and leaders have acknowledged this issue. Yet, this seemingly simple service has not been effected. Peter John Moses writes an open letter to the president, imploring him to be better than the rest and to provide a simple solution for something that affects nearly half the population.
Dear Mr Ramaphosa
Please forgive me for interrupting your busy life, but I needed to get some things off my chest. It is not the high crime rate, nor is it unemployment that is keeping good people down alone. I know you are doing your best to get that sorted and that this will take a little time. I just want to focus some of your attention on an issue that needs urgent address. An issue that has been neglected by our leaders for far too long.
I have visited almost 30 schools across the Cape Flats over the past year. We collected and then distributed free sanitary pads to these schools, as part of the #Running4Pads initiative. This initiative has developed into the creation of a non-profit company that is doing what our government struggles to. I am merely stating a fact. Sanitary products that were delivered were all received from donations by members of the public and private businesses. You see sir, I believe in living a purposeful life and being a part of this amazing movement started by concerned runners. I feel blessed and grateful that I can be of service to those who need assistance. It has also opened my eyes to the great need that still exists and the silence around this very important issue.
Every school we visited is appreciative and every principal that we have spoken to is moved by the gesture of goodwill by strangers and happy that there is a growing awareness of the needs of their learners. The fact that these educators must purchase sanitary products for girls at their schools from their own pockets and that the education department is not assisting schools with an increase of funds, especially for these purchases, is an indictment of the patriarchal society we live in. There has been talk in government circles of providing free sanitary pads to schools, but after many years of lip service, nothing has come of this. In my humble opinion that is just one of the many travesties that our female populace has been subjected to by our elected leaders and this must come to an end.
How long must this go on before help is provided? Girls keep losing valuable school days because of this and the appeals of educators fall on deaf ears. Mr Ramaphosa, you want us to follow your call and shout out “SEND ME”! What we need you to send, Sir, is the free sanitary pads that your predecessor also referred to in previous speeches – and what one of the opposition leaders referred to most recently in answer to your first SONA address. We may have been used to your predecessor disappointing us, but your slow rectification of his mistakes is not making us, the people on the ground, feel any more optimistic now. I beg you to do better. Our girls need better. From you, from us and from every adult that can make a change.
What surprises me, or maybe I should say horrifies me, is that there are many people out there who do not see this lack of sanitary pads as an important issue. How can anybody not see the importance of keeping girls in school? And of keeping girls healthy in body and mind? The painful physical effects are just one of the things they must face, but what about the mental anguish that comes with the fear of being shamed and ridiculed by not only their peers but strangers as well? It must be a tremendous battle to keep their self esteem intact and to salvage a little bit of their dignity. Why do we insist on making life harder when there really is no need for this to be an issue?
Organisations like #Running4Pads (and others) are doing the work on the ground and a little help from government would go a long way. Make it easier for prices of these products to come down Mr President, maybe by not taxing these essentials. Offer manufacturers incentives for producing a cheaper alternative for lower income families and NGOs to purchase. If the Department of Education does not have the budget or capacity to provide these products to schools, because we all know how tough it is for them to even get textbooks to schools, then please allow your Department of Health to jump in and do their bit. It is an important health issue too.
We need you to start thinking out of the box here. We need you to stop making Obama-esque speeches, even though they provide nice soundbites for television. We need our president to get things done, by rolling up his sleeves and using some of his energy from his morning walks for exercise, to benefit our young female population. The leader of the EFF has called you out on it in parliament, maybe he will lend you one of his overalls if you don’t want to dirty your nice suits. You can maybe even get him to join you. Wouldn’t that be a proud example to the rest of our nation? What could be achieved by working together and not always against each other? We, as your fellow countrymen, are laying the groundwork, but I beg you to make haste. It is not time to apply your mind – like your predecessor did. It is time to apply your will and lead the charge on the way to defeating this problem. Every president worries about his legacy. This is one that you can do something about and, frankly, it is much less controversial for you than the land problem.
I will be saving a space for you in the over-packed car on the next pad drop, or even a place next to me in the overcrowded taxi. You can keep two black bags on your lap while we make our way into the townships and together we can deliver to two schools – instead of just the one that I usually go to on my own. Don’t do it for me Sir, don’t do it for your party. Do it for our women of this nation. They need better from men. They need better from you.
I hope you’ll join me soon.
Thuma mina Mr President, thuma mina.