Popular Democratic Movement leader, McHenry Venaani expressed disappointment after his proposed private member’s bill on free sanitary pads was opposed in parliament.
Yesterday, the proposal was opposed by deputy minister of education Faustina Caley and after the house was divided to vote, 30 Swapo parliamentarians voted against the bill.
The proposed bill aims to implement free distribution of sanitary products to underprivileged schoolgirls, establish a system for identification, distribution, and monitoring.
This, according to Venaani, “Is betrayal to young girls”.
The proposed ‘Free Sanitary Materials for School Girls Act 2023’ made provision for the health ministry and education ministry to oversee the provision of free sanitary materials to schoolgirls in need, identify schools based on financial need and jointly monitor the effectiveness of the programme and report annually to Parliament.
Venaani also proposed that the Act, if passed, be reviewed every two years after its commencement to assess its effectiveness and propose necessary amendments.
“The ministries may issue further regulations and guidelines to aid in the implementation of this Act,” he suggested.
They didn’t listen
“They voted it out on no basis because every idea coming from the opposition party is never taken to heart,” said the furious Venaani.
The veteran politician said they [Parliamentarians] didn’t hear him out.
“They don’t want to even hear it, instead of listening and voting me out later they refused to hear it. So typical of Swapo,” he said.
According to him, the bill was motivated by a high rise of school dropouts by underprivileged girls especially from Kavango and Ohangwena regions due to lack of sanitary pads.
“I was saying, let’s have a law that compels the government to provide sanitary pads but the ruling party that has 50% representation of women rejected the motion and said it’s an embarrassing issue to talk about menstrual problems but then I said this issue is more than just that, it’s a societal issue,” explained the veteran politician.
There is no need
Approached for a comment, Caley said, “There is no need for this bill because we already have an act in place in the ministry, Act 3 (2020).”
Caley argued that instead of Venaani introducing a new bill, he should have identified some gaps in the current Act, so that it could be amended.
“We can work together. If he feels the Act we have in place is not strong enough we can work on that. Our ministry, together with the ministry of gender, ministry of health and other stakeholders already have a coordinated body that deals specifically with sanitary pads,” the minister explained.
Caley said the bone of contention is avoiding a second bill and not avoiding the distribution of pads.
In a media statement issued late yesterday, PDM expressed disappointment with the refusal of the bill.
“This act, as you are aware, was designed not merely as a public health initiative but as a transformative tool for social justice, gender equity, and human dignity,” said the party.
PDM sees the ‘refusal’ to debate the legislation as “nothing short of a betrayal; betrayal of the young girls who are the future of this nation, a betrayal of the principles of equality and social justice, and a betrayal of the very essence of democratic governance. This act of denial is a glaring testament to Swapo’s disconnection from the real issues that plague our society, particularly the systemic marginalisation of women and girls,” reads the document.
The issue of providing free sanitary pads in the country has been a prominent topic of discussion in both public discourse and institutional settings for many years.
Last year, the Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) called on the ministry of education to install sanitary pad dispensers in all schools countrywide.
Nanso’s president Lucia Ndishishi, referenced a 2014 assessment report by the Society for Family Health on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, which revealed that only 17% of girls in rural Namibia had access to sanitary pads.
In a 2021 report titled “Comprehensive Assessment of Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices on Adolescent Girls in Namibia,” it was discovered that many girls prefer and use disposable pads, yet one in four girls cannot afford them.
The report also indicated that merely one in 10 girls utilised reusable pads, and approximately 4.2% of girls missed school during their menstrual periods.
Furthermore, the report unveiled that only half of the schools had adequate supplies of toilet paper, and there was also a shortage of soap. Additionally, it was noted that 41% of girls believed they should not engage in physical activities while menstruating, while 59% considered menstruation a private matter.
Nonetheless, 52% admitted discussing it regardless, and a remarkable 71% expressed a desire to have conversations with someone about menstruation.
(Sanitary pads 1 &2)