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Zimbabwe state security agents seize sanitary pads

Does the Zanu PF government expect Zimbabweans to believe that sanitary ware for women is now an issue of national security - that tampons and pads are lethal weapons?

Or perhaps the government can't bear to see civic society having the capacity to address the problems which are caused by the government's incompetence.

Or is this simply a question of ugly intimidation, designed to de-humanise and deliberately humiliate Zimbabwean women further?!

Press Release from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)

Dear colleagues,

The [tag]Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions[/tag] has just received news that state security agencies last week seized a consignment of [tag]sanitary pads[/tag] meant for distribution to farmworkers in Zimbabwe's farming areas of Concession and Mvurwi.

The pads were allegedly seized by [tag]police [/tag]and later the dreaded [tag]Central Intelligence Organization[/tag] was drawn into the matter. The [tag]ZCTU [/tag]had given the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) its allocation of the pads sourced with the help of international partners.

On seizure, the farmworkers were told that the pads had been poisoned by former white commercial farmers, which is a blatant lie as the ZCTU, with the help of international partners and friends sourced for the sanitary ware.

However, the ZCTU is disturbed by this development because the sanitary pads were meant for women who cannot afford them. We deplore the actions of government, done through its security arms.

Efforts are currently underway to locate where the consignment of pads was taken to.

Please see this post for more information on the[tag] Dignity. Period![/tag] Campaign. It includes background information on the shortage of sanitary ware in Zimbabwe, and instructions on how to use our button to support the ZCTU and ACTSA campaign for [tag]Zimbabwe[/tag]n womens' dignity via your website or blog.

[tags]gender, womens' rights, freedom, justice[/tags]


Black Looks says:

[...] The full story is up at the This is Zimbabwe Blog [...]

Submitted by Black Looks on 9 December 2006 - 9:17am

this is insane. thanks for the update.

Submitted by brownfemipower on 9 December 2006 - 11:51pm

I came here from hilzoy's post at Obsidian Wings.

There's something going on here that I don't understand. Disposable menstrual products are historically very recent. Why aren't the women of Zimbabwe going back to whatever methods their mothers used a generation ago, which must have been moderately practical & hygienic? Not sterile, but *workable*. AFAIK European (& American) tradition was to use washable cloth, like a small diaper but held on with a belt. Why aren't Zimbabwean women using whatever kind of fabric you use for diapers?

I'm not saying that the attitude of the men of Zimbabwe isn't shameful, because it is. But I don't understand why this is a *crisis* that can only be solved with imports.

Submitted by Doctor Science on 13 December 2006 - 4:14pm
Sokwanele says:

Doctor Science, I want to answer this as fully as possible because I imagine you're not the only one with questions like this...

The issue of sanitary ware has to be seen in the context of Zimbabwe as whole to fully understand the reason why it is a crisis. Inflation in Zimbabwe is now running at nearly 1,100% and that has a negative impact on every aspect of life. It is escalating fast and facts are out of date already. May I just say that the cost of sanitary ware reported in our original piece - i.e. half a months' wages - no longer applies. Since then, inflation has rocketed further and a friend of mine told me recently that her monthly income is now earns LESS than the price of one box of tampons in one month. And she's lucky - she has a job. 70% of the people in our country do not have a job.

Ordinary solutions that women in healthier economies might consider as an alternative to tampons and sanitary towels - for example, cotton wool - is simply unaffordable to women in Zimbabwe. In fact, toilet paper - imagine doing without that! - is no longer affordable.

People can no longer afford to buy newspapers to read, never mind tear up for sanitary ware so that isn't an option either. I can assure you if they could buy newspapers, they'd be passed around as precious reading material!!

Using washable cloth as you suggest, if it was especially purchased for this purpose, would far exceed the costs of these items above so that isn't an option.

The alternative would be for women to perhaps perhaps tear up old clothing - but that assumes that someone who is poverty stricken has 'old clothing' they can use or afford to tear up and part with. When will they next be able to afford to replace this item?

The issue of hygiene is so critical its impossible to over-emphasise. Zimbabwe has among the highest HIV statistics in the world - and there is a real question of whether women have access to water clean enough in some areas to wash these items for use in such an intimate way. The issue of infection is always worrying to a person who is HIV positive, but it is even more of an issue if that person does not have adequate nutrition, and has no way of paying for any kind of medical treatment. Life expectancy for women is the lowest in the world in Zimbabwe - it currently stands at 34, but the WHO believe it may be even lower than that.

In urban areas, the crumbling economy has meant shortages of water purification chemicals in some towns, and the basic upkeep of sewerage systems can be hit and miss. There are some parts of Harare where I have been almost sick from the smell of raw sewerage in the streets. Cholera is a recurring worry in some areas. Rubbish collection services are a joke and there are piles of rotting rubbish in the alleys of Bulawayo.

Keep in mind too that last year Mugabe embarked on a program called Murambatsvina - I encourage you to read about this horrific 'program' - which forcibly displaced thousands of people out of their shanty homes resulting in many living in inhumane squatter conditions. It is very very difficult for anyone to maintain optimum levels of hygiene in these conditions. Furthermore, these sort of unhealthy conditions again lower imunity to infections even further.

For all these reasons, the shortage of sanitary ware can most certainly be very accurately described as a 'crisis'. With HIV, poor nutrition, no shelter an infection can result in death.

But even if all of what I have said did not apply - I respectfully ask you to consider how women in healthy western countris would react if their access to hygienic sanitary ware was removed from them, and they were unable to use cotton wool, toilet paper, or have access to clean water when they were menstruating? Would they not see it as a crisis?

It is true that women historically had different methods, but it is not necessarily true that these methods are comfortable alongside the demands of modern lifestyles, and many of these methods are certainly not in sync with the basic levels of human rights that the world expects for everyone.

Submitted by Sokwanele on 13 December 2006 - 7:30pm

Thank you for your detailed reply. I can see how the combination of urbanization, poverty, & lack of infrastructure has really caught Zimbabwean women in a cleft stick, here.

I'm not saying that traditional methods were necessarily good by present standards -- my mother (born in 1925) said she was very, very glad to see the last of "blood rags" by the end of WWII -- but they didn't have to reach the level of human rights violations. But it sounds as though Zimbabwean women are suffering from the worst of both worlds, without access to either the old ways or the new.

Is there also a "diaper crisis" in infant care, as well? Can Zimbabwean women piggyback your needs onto child health needs, or do children, too, get no respect?

Submitted by Doctor Science on 13 December 2006 - 9:59pm
hilzoy says:

Sokwanele -- thanks for the comment here and at Obsidian Wings, and also for this post, which was the first time I had heard of this.

Submitted by hilzoy on 13 December 2006 - 11:38pm
florence durrant says:

Dr Science

I am a Zimbabwean living in Europe - and I used sanitory towels as far back as the 70s when I was still growing up in Zimbabwe. You are looking at the issue of sanitory towels out of the context of the dire situation in Zimbabwe. The point this case is making surely must be - 'things must be really bad for women to not afford to buy sanitory towels.' Not your alternative method. As a scientits, I assume you have a wider imagination of any given situation - not the pinhole view to life. I therefore expect you to see that if these women cannot afford sanitory towels, the chances of them affording a piece of cloth and soap to wash it every 2 hours and dry it so as to re-use it are pretty slim.

No disregard to your thoughts, but if you read what is written in this blogg about the situation in Zimbabwe, you will either come up with a solution that is appropriate or comforting as people are dying unnecessarily. None of it having anything to do with how people lived before sanitory towels were invented.

Submitted by florence durrant on 14 December 2006 - 12:33pm
ACTSA says:

Rally for Dignity

ACTSA is organising a major Rally for Dignity on Saturday 10th March 2007. The event will take place in Trafalgar Square from 1pm - 4pm.

Two days after International Women's Day, the day will be a celebration of the role of women in the global struggle for justice - with particular focus on the struggle for freedom in Zimbabwe and the role of women in this struggle, and a chance to build support the Dignity! Period. Campaign

Speakers invited so far include:

Lovemore Matombo, President, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions

Lucia Matibenga, Vice President, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions

Baroness Amos, Leader House of Lords

Frances O'Grady, Deputy General Secretary, TUC

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London

Glenys Kinnock MEP

Ruqayyah Collector, Black Students Officer, NUS

Kat Stark, Women’s Officer, NUS

Kate Hoey, MP

Anna Chancellor, Actress

Henry Olonga, Cricketer and Musician

There will also be a balloon launch to mark the role of women in struggle.

Let us know if you plan to come along, and please try and get as many people as you can to join you

For more information on ACTSA and our Dignity! Period. Campaign visit

Submitted by ACTSA on 5 February 2007 - 6:43pm
Vitalikas says:


very nice blog, many good information about Africa I have found here!

Submitted by Vitalikas on 14 August 2007 - 11:13pm
Joelle says:

I deplore the situation in Zimbabwe today and watch in Fear and Horror to what is happening to the Jewel Of Africa! Our Thoughts and Prayers are with the people there everyday.
The knowledge that no place is safe from the same type of political upheaval is truly a horrendous thing.
May God keep each and everyone there fighting for the survival of their families and Nation safe.

Submitted by Joelle on 17 August 2007 - 10:50pm

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