Tabitha Khumalo

Celebrities back tampon rebels of Zimbabwe


She has been arrested 22 times, tortured so badly that her front teeth were knocked into her nose and had an AK-47 thrust up her vagina until she bled. Thabitha Khumalo’s crime: to campaign against a critical shortage of tampons and sanitary towels in Zimbabwe, one of the least talked about and most severe side-effects for women of the country’s economic crisis.

Now her cause has been taken up in Britain by celebrities including the actors Anna Chancellor, Gillian Anderson, Prunella Scales and Jeremy Irons.

Later this month they will launch “Dignity. Period!”, a fundraising campaign to buy sanitary products for Zimbabwe’s women. It will start with a night of entertainment at the 20th Century theatre in Notting Hill, west London, hosted by Stephen Fry.

So desperate is the situation that women are being forced to use rolled-up pieces of newspaper. Zimbabwe already has the world’s lowest life expectancy for women – 34 – and Khumalo believes these unhygienic practices could make it drop to as low as 20 because infections will make them more vulnerable to HIV. “It’s a time bomb,” she said. The shortage is forcing schoolgirls to stay at home when they start menstruating.

The crisis began in 1999 when Johnson & Johnson, the healthcare manufacturer, pulled out of the country because of the worsening economic situation. Zimbabwe then had to import products from neighbouring South Africa. But the collapse of the currency and the world’s highest inflation, now more than 1,000%, have made the products unaffordable to all but the elite.

In a country where the minimum wage is Z$6m (£17.14) a month, the cost of a box of 20 tampons is Z$3m. “Who in their right mind is going to spend half their earnings on tampons?” asked Khumalo. “As it is most people can only afford to eat once a day. Women are being forced to choose between their own health and the survival of their family.”

Khumalo, 45, general secretary of the Women’s Advisory Council of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and a mother of two, started her campaign after she saw a woman walking awkwardly on the street: “She told me she was going home from work because she had her period and could no longer afford sanitary protection or cotton wool.”

When an MP raised the issue in parliament, government ministers fell about laughing and dismissed the matter. Khumalo has tried to highlight it through public meetings and distributing scarves printed with demands for affordable sanitary wear. As a result she has been repeatedly arrested and beaten, but refuses to be deterred.


Dignity Period! campaign

In 2006 Thabitha Khumalo the vice president of the Zimbabwe congress of trade unions won the United kingdoms woman of the year. Khumalo 46 had just launched the campaign Dignity. Period!

“On a wage of £3, with sanitary towels costing £3, women have to choose between sanitary towels or food for their children, you know what they choose.” Zimbabwean trade unionist Tabitha Khumalo, April 2006.

Dignity! Period. Campaign provides safe and hygienic sanitary protection to women in Zimbabwe to help combat the infection, social embarrassment and in some cases infertility that the current sanitary crisis is creating.

Tabitha Khumalo a Zimbabwean, is a mother, trade unionist and a women’s right campaigner. She has been arrested 22 times and tortured as a result of her right for the basic human right to have access to sanitary protection, life expentancy of a woman in Zimbabwe is 34 and is the lowest in the world.


Santitary towels for women in England are affordable and is not an issue that women campaign about. When I saw Tabitha on a programme called This Morning, years ago she stuck in my mind and I haven’t forgotten her or her plight for women in Zimbabwe. To be tortured for making the world aware of this issue shows no regard for women. In 2017 is another year in which we have to continue to campaign on the many women issues that  continues to degrade women.





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