The National Assembly has adopted a motion moved by Chembe PF member of parliament Sebastian Kopulande, aimed at urging government to start providing adequate sanitation and sanitary towels to all girls in public schools.

The motion was seconded by Kafue UPND member of parliament Mirriam Chonya.

Kopulande observed that lack of access to adequate sanitation facilities and sanitary pads by most girls, especially in rural areas, was one of the most common reasons girls were missing school and dropping out in some cases.

“Mr Speaker, having observed the high girl-child school drop-outs in Chembe and in other rural areas, I am calling on this House to urge government to introduce free distribution of pads to school girls in poor and rural areas of our country because from my observation, this is clearly one of the major causes of the problem. Girls continue to be at a disadvantage with a considerable number of them dropping out of school at primary or secondary levels. It is a fact that a good number of our girls especially in rural areas cannot afford and do not have access to safe sanitary products. This has prevented them from engaging effectively in daily lives activities, be it school or carrying out their normal responsibilities such as domestic, social or otherwise during menstrual periods. With regards to school attendance, a significant number of girls have had to miss class and lose learning time which has negatively affected their academic performance,” said Kopulande.

“Statistics obtained from the Women for Change indicate that on average, a girl is absent from school for four days in a month, which makes, 13 days of time lost in one term and about 39 times in a year. In this scenario Mr Speaker, can we really expect girls to perform to the same standard as their male counterparts who enjoy 100 per cent of the time allocated? Can girls in this situation be in a position to advance in their education to higher levels? The girls cannot do it. Girls are clearly at a very huge disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. Mr Speaker our young girls are fragile, they deserve to be treated with care and dignity and it is our duty in this House therefore, not only to speak for them but to protect them. Make their lives better today and create a pass for them into their future. Therefore, we must find a solution that adequately addresses the problem and contributes to a progressive Zambia that promotes girl child education.”

And in seconding the motion, Chonya said it was disturbing that girls were dropping out of school due to lack of sanitary pads.

“I would want to urge members of this House to support this non-controversial and non partisan motion. We need to urge this government to begin to provide for our girls these important commodities in the schools at no cost. I know that we are in a period of austerity measures and we have difficulties in mobilising resources. But I hope this particular motion will be able to help our government start providing adequate sanitary pads in schools. If money remains a question Mr Speaker, I am aware that the global community is committed to providing support for the girl child education and this is one matter that I am sure they would want to help us with,” said Chonya.

Meanwhile, debating the same motion, Mazabuka central UPND member of parliament Gary Nkombo said it was almost impossible for PF to implement the progressive suggestion.

“This motion was once brought to this House in form of law, through the budget in 2017 that the PF government dubbed ‘Zambia Plus’. Honourable Felix Mutati came and indicated that they had made a plan for that year to provide sanitary towels to school children in the rural areas. We have done an assessment of the performance of that particular pronouncement Mr Speaker and our findings are that it was a stillborn baby, nothing happened. Important as it was, nothing happened. So in supporting this motion, honourable member of parliament for Chembe bank on me and those who are like mind to be emotionally attached to this particular drive that you are pushing because girl children are mothers and as a matter of fact, we just not shy away from discussing menses because this is a process that brings out life. So it’s a sacred natural activity and we need to support this kind of thinking,” Nkombo said.

“Honourable Kopulande, thank you so much for reminding the government that they had actually cast it into law because no sooner had we had passed the 2017 budget, honourable Mutati came back here with an appropration bill and we enacted it into law and the law is a biding set of rules that compels you to behave in a certain manner. Now one asks a certain question, why did it not happen? The simple reason Mr Speaker is that the government we have is not serious. Because this was cast into law and there was not even an explanation why this law was not only forgone but abandoned.”

Nkombo charged that the PF government had misplaced priorities in the management of national affairs.

“I am sure most of you know Abraham Maslow who brought the theory called Maslow’s theory of psychological needs. The hierarchy of human needs is pyramidical, things like water, shelter, food and air we need these things. But I can assure you that this issue we are discussing ranks at the bottom end of the Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs to Patriotic Front. Why bring out something you cannot achieve? Why bring flamboyant statements ‘we are going to help girl children with sanitary pads’ and you fail to even buy one? For this particular motion to succeed, we need to ask ourselves, what are sanitary pads made of? They are made of a certain fabric. Do we produce that fabric in Zambia? Zambia does not even produce a match stick. But we have local industries which are able to produce these things and if we had a serious government in place, this could have been achieved a long time ago,” said Nkombo.

“Honourable member of parliament for Chembe, thank you for bringing this motion. But the group of people you are with, this is far-fetched, they have no solution for this. When a serious government like UPND comes into power, these are the matters that we are going to be dealing with like you are having porridge in the morning with little or no effort whatsoever because they sit right at the heart of the dignity of human beings. This is doable. For PF government to have come in 2017 and make this proposal, they knew it was doable. This is a serious matter and we need ti support it at every step of the way and everyone should play their part. But this is only achievable with a government that is selfless. But wastefulness on the part of PF is one of the reasons why Zambians should have a rethink on whether they should maintain a status quo of having them in charge this nation beyond 2021.”

But Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya said it was plausible for government to implement this.

“I am aware Mr Speaker that the Minister of Finance is already making headways in speaking to entrepreneurs in society such as the Urban Girls who are trying to manufacture reusable pads. Mr Speaker, if in a country we are able to work with cooperating partners and NGOs to supply condoms for free while sex is a choice, what more free sanitary pads? I believe that this government is well placed to do that and I am sure the Finance Minister has already begun talking with cooperating partners and NGOs who are manufacturing pads that can be reusable,” said Siliya before the House unanimously adopted the motion.