Dignity kits for girls

Dignity kits for girls

QUTHING-WHEN Thembekile* (name changed), 14, started menstruating, her aunt taught her how to use an old cloth as sanitary wear.
She also taught Thembekile about the right undergarment to use to avoid embarrassing leakages. Broke and unable to help Thembekile with proper sanitary wear, this was the best that the aunt could do.

Thembekile and many other girls in Quthing district are being forced to rely on old pieces of cloth during their monthly periods because their families are too poor to afford sanitary pads.
Their plight has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic as most parents, who are usually employed in South African vegetable and fruit farms at Ceres in the Western Cape, are back in Lesotho and not earning any income or remain in South Africa without jobs.

During the start of the lockdown in March, a lot of men and women from Quthing district flocked back to Lesotho.
Almost six months later, they are still holed up at home without any form of income.
To ease the plight of underprivileged girls, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has partnered with the Lesotho Red Cross Society (LRCS) to support girls like Thembekile.

Through funds from the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), the UNFPA engaged the LRCS as an implementing partner to distribute dignity kits to vulnerable girls and women affected by drought and Covid-19.
Thembekile’s aunt who received the dignity kit on her behalf at Qomo-Qomong was ecstatic after receiving the package.

“We have nothing. Nothing,” the aunt said. “When we wake up, we don’t know where to go and what to do,” she said.
“My greatest challenge is that I don’t only look after Thembekile, whose parents have been working at Ceres in apple and onion farms, but I have my own children who have not done well in matric examinations and are idling at home.”

She added: “Now Covid-19 has made things worse.”
She wishes there could be dams around the village to harness water and lessen the effects of drought.
Besides the dignity kit, she was also grateful for the advice offered by an official from the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) during the hand-over of the kits.

“It is difficult for some of us to talk to our children about issues related to sex, child marriage and other children’s rights. So we are happy that the girls were advised on these issues today,” she said.
A policewoman from the CGPU, Constable Lirontšo Shale, highlighted to girls and women present at the occasion issues around human rights, Gender Based Violence (GBV), especially during the lockdown, the different types of GBV and how they affect females.

Constable Shale encouraged the girls to report gender-based violence and explained that early sexual debut leads to unwanted pregnancies, transmissible diseases and illegal abortions.
“Anyone below the age of 16 is not supposed to engage in sex. It is an offence to do so,” she said.
She also warned them against entering into child marriage.
“No matter the kind of problems you have, marriage is not the solution. The solution is getting an education,” she said.

According to the principal at Qomo-Qomong Primary School, some young girls often miss school when they are having their monthly periods to avoid embarrassment.
She was also happy the dignity kit contained, among others, two undergarments.

“Due to embarrassment, sometimes the girls are unable to participate in sports activities or they end up borrowing underwear from each other,” the principal said, adding: “This we know because when there is a conflict, these things come out and end up being known by many at the school, causing more embarrassment.”

A Red Cross volunteer, ’Marelebohile Ntsukunyane, who has been distributing the dignity kits in Quthing, said many young girls in the district live on their own as their parents are in Ceres in South Africa.
“There are therefore a lot of sexual assaults directed at these girls,” Ntsukunyane said.

Many of the girls have become destitute, she said.
“When we were at Sixondo, we had to share the contents of the dignity kits. We could not just leave some of the girls that were there without giving them anything considering how needy they looked.”
The dignity kits are being distributed in five districts of Quthing, Mokhotlong, Maseru, Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek, covering about 500 adolescent girls and young women.

The programme was launched at the Royal Palace in Maseru, where 10 girls who were selected as representatives of a bigger group of 2 500 received the dignity kits.
They were handed over by the UNFPA Representative to Lesotho, Dr Marc Derveeuw to Princess Senate Mohato Seeiso who officially received them on behalf of the girls.

Speaking at the occasion, Dr Derveeuw reaffirmed that the UNFPA would continue focusing on the situation of women and girls in Lesotho.
He emphasised the need for menstrual health to be part of the development agenda, adding that the dignity kits contained items for women and girls to preserve their dignity, especially in times of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic when such items do not get priority at household level.
Princess Senate called for all stakeholders to intensify the fight against gender-based violence.

“On behalf of my peers, young women and girls that bear the brunt of victimisation (and) gender-based violence, we wish to sincerely implore all concerned to continue fighting for us,” the Princess said.
“We need and deserve a safe country in which we can live in peace,” she said.

The UNFPA received Covid-19 funds in January to respond to social protection issues arising in communities that have been hard hit by the pandemic as well as the El Nino induced drought that was declared by the government in November last year.

The UNFPA is working with World Vision on prevention of child marriages and provision of psycho-social support to drought affected communities.
It is also working with the Gender Links on Protection and Gender Based Violence mainstreaming as well as engaging men and boys in the fight against GBV.

As part of the project, the Lesotho Red Cross Society is focusing on continuity of Essential Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights during emergencies.
For 2020, the UNFPA has planned to reach an estimated 48 million women, girls and young people, including 4 million pregnant women in 57 countries.

Violet Maraisane

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