Fact? or Fiction?

22nd February 2017

Letter to the Editor

Working in the Menstrual Health sector, as I do has proved that one of the major shortcomings is the collection of credible and reliable data.  Without this data, we will never really be able to know the true extent and impact of the lack of something as basic as sanitary wear. This can be attributed to a lack of funding and/or a lack of capacity to undertake such a mammoth task.

I’m aware that it has become convenient for civil society to banding about the following statement:

“7 million girls miss school every month because they don’t have sanitary wear”

This statement is FICTION

We (civil society, the media, Corporate South Africa and the public) are perpetuating a myth that is devoid of any facts” i.e. 7 million girls miss school because they don’t have sanitary wear” 

I think the problem is that we have NO PROOF -  which is why obtaining credible, reliable facts is HUGE and URGENT property for Dignity Dreams and the process has started.

$1·         I’m not disputing that at any given time there are 7 million girls menstruating, but to say they stay at home is NOT correct

$1·         There is already some backlash from other women and girls who say that if you really want to go to school you will plan

$1·         Especially the older ladies are saying they had no choice – they were determined to get an education – no matter whether they had their periods or not

$1·         Per STATS SA 2014 who surveyed 14 million learners:

$1o   only 21.8% of girls do not complete their schooling as compared to boys – only 1% do not complete schooling

$1o    http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0318/P03182014.pdf

At inception, Dignity Dreams was an NPO who merely disturbed beautiful reusable sanitary wear (which carries SABS Absorbency Approval) which last for three years and has created 19 MICRO businesses to tackle the high levels of unemployment – to an NPO who realizes that if we do not have proper data, we will never really empower the young girls we serve.

In other words, in the past 100% of our time was spent to distributing sanitary wear. The current ratio is 30% time spent on distributing packs and 70% of our time on education.  But we can’t educate these young girls if we do not have a proper understanding of their needs, or experiences - which is why data collection is so critical.

Data must also be collected on the following:

  •  “How many girls miss school days and why” There are too many myths around this topic.
  •   Do girls understand what a menstrual cycle is
  •   What are the myths and stigmas – and how we deal with them

In an article published by Africa Check on 9th August 2016 “Do 7 million SA girls miss school every month due to lack of sanitary pads?” – researched by Karen Jaynes – the following opinions were given:

$1·         Physician Dr Simone Shelly told Africa Check that it “would be a very, very small percentage in my experience – on average 11 – 16 is when girls start (menstruating), mostly 13” Dr Shelly has public health experience and the Cape flats and currently works at a women’s wellness centre in Cape Town.

If we leave out girls in pre-grade R to grade 2, there are approximately 4 713 143 girls of menstruation age enrolled in school. Of these, 20% were attending fee-paying schools, although some are granted fee exemptions because of their parents’ financial situation. Not counting these girls, it leaves 3 770 514 girls potentially unable to buy sanitary towels while menstruating.

While this is a huge number, it negates the claim that 7 million girls are missing school”

$1·         Professor Chris van Wyk, a professor from Stellenbosch University’s Economics Department who specialises in education research stated: “Even overall absentee numbers are hard to track, as the Department of Basic Education only started recording these numbers in 2015 and the final figures have not yet been signed off on. He says. “It’s information we just don’t have”

$1·         Millicent Merton from the Western Cape’s Education Department – Communication Department said “Our absentee stats only cover absenteeism – NOT the reason for it”



In the past, many of us made to many incorrect assumptions about what the young girls needed but unless we have accurate and credible data – headiness like “7 million girls miss school every year” will only create the misperception that girls are using their periods as an excuse NOT to attend school.

Many thanks,

Sandra Millar

Founder & CEO

Dignity Dreams