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  • Menstrual Hygiene: Comfort, Dignity and a Health Issue Concern

    The United Nations General Assembly has just adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. These go beyond demanding equal rights to education for girls and boys. They also demand equal participation and completion rates.

    I was particular struck by a discussion on a television programme, Sunday Live on 16 August 2015. In the programme there was a representative from the Ministry of Education whose stance is that as a department they cannot deny or confirm these reports largely due to the fact that they have not carried out any research on the subject.

    I am for research-based evidence myself, but I must point out that a video clip aired at the start of the programme showed a young girl who actually said that she has had to miss school herself due to lack of sanitary pads. I have personally seen firsthand accounts of young girls in the news saying that they have had to miss school due to lack of proper sanitary towels. So yes, there is evidence to that effect albeit anecdotal.

    According to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol 2015 Health Barometer a woman's educational status has an impact on whether a delivery is assisted by a health professional and whether the birth is delivered at a health facility, a case in point is Malawi with 63 percent of births at health facilities recorded to mothers with no education compared to 81 percent of mothers with secondary education.

    The government set to achieve a 100 percent completion of primary education by both boys and girls and a ratio of 1:1 in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. While acknowledging the role that government has done in improving the lives of South African women and girls since post-apartheid, I argue that the provision of hygienic and comfortable forms of sanitary ware is another way that government can ensure that more girls remain in school.

    The provision of proper sanitary ware is not only a matter of comfort and dignity but it is a health issue too. Studies have shown a link between poor sanitary health, cervical cancer and other reproductive health challenges. Women who practice unhygienic practices are also vulnerable to infertility.

    The use of old clothes and rags increases the susceptibility to urinary tract infections (UTI) and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women in developing countries and the cancer that causes the most mortality among South African women. Given the far reaching implications of poor menstrual hygiene, it does not make any difference to me whether it's one or two girls who miss out on school due to lack of sanitary pads because even one is one too many.

    Promoting gender equality and empowering women is core to sustainable development as outlined in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 4. Education remains the fundamental platform for meeting most of the Post 2015 SDG goals, particularly Goal 8 but is one of the most fundamental instruments to freedom. Renowned Nobel Peace prize winner, Amartya Sen, sets literacy at the intersection of the institutional and the personal, the powerful and the powerless, the marginalised and the mainstream, the male and the female.

    As contained in SDG 4, an educated society is more likely to bring about a reduction in poverty, unemployment and want, and increase the overall standard of living of the population. Furthermore, education provides a firm foundation for life-long learning and skills acquisition.

    Education is of particular importance for women, as it provides them with the necessary means and capacity to take leadership positions and enhances their scope for more equitable participation in decision-making processes. In short, education is a multiplier which enhances live chances. It enables women to make more strategic choices around employment, sexual and reproductive health amongst other aspects. Therefore, the provision of universal education of women and gender empowerment are interrelated and should be seen as inalienable rights.

    The provision of sanitary towels to girls coming from marginalised backgrounds should also be looked at broadly; it is an issue of poverty which disproportionately affects women and girls as well the intersection between poverty and HIV/AIDS thereof.

    • Sehlaphi ‘Dawu' Sibanda is a media researcher and Consultant based in Johannesburg. This article is part of the GL News Service that offers fresh views on every day news.

     Photo Courtesy: Fincon.

  • Africa’s Post-2015 Development: The Role of MobilePhones in Higher Education
    The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is of the view that education is a central component of the post-2015 development agenda. Education benefits society in many ways, including through reducing poverty levels, improving health and fostering economic development, job creation and higher salaries, as well as improving governance.(2) Considering the benefits, it is important that education is made more accessible than it currently is. While significant progress has been made in primary education enrolment in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), secondary and tertiary enrolment remains low. For example, as of 2012, only about eight percent of tertiary school-aged youths and adults in SSA were enrolled in tertiary institutions, compared to the global average of 32 percent.(3) However, technology may be the answer to the accessibility problems bedevilling higher education by making online and distance learning possible.(4)

    Technological innovation is critical in achieving greater access to education through distance learning and digital methods via mobile phone learning (m-learning). Due to the proliferation of mobile phones in Africa and existing educational shortfall faced by many African countries - particularly in SSA - a variety of educational programmes that use mobile phones have been piloted, many of them successfully. Mobile applications have also extended beyond students to include the widely used method of linking teachers together via short message service (SMS) to create a support network that encourages professional development.(5) As the MDGs conclude at the end of 2015 and Africa moves towards post-2015 development, improvements in mobile phone technology and exemplary pilot programmes in m-learning have the potential to benefit students enrolled in higher education. For example, by eliminating the need for a computer, improving teacher-student communication and support, and providing access to materials. Adult learners, too, will be able to benefit from mobile applications (apps) that help to improve literacy and preparation for the job market. However, while m-learning has the capability to impact self-motivated learners in higher education development and skills training, without the proper planning and adequate support necessary for widespread implementation, its potential may not be fully realised.

    Opportunities for post-secondary and adult learners through mobile technology.

    The proliferation of mobile phones across Africa has led to increased communication, easier and more accessible banking and management of personal finance, improvements in healthcare and accessible entertainment, and now it promises to improve and change education for youths and adults who are looking to enter the job market. Research shows that in 2013 there were more than 770 million mobile phone subscriptions in Africa. By the end of 2015 this number is expected to increase to one billion subscriptions, and by 2018 it is forecast to reach 1.2 billion.(6) The increase in phones using Internet data services will also be a boon to m-learning: of subscriptions in 2013, only 12.5 percent were phones with mobile broadband, while by 2018, 66.8 percent of mobile phone subscriptions will include mobile broadband.(7) The rising growth in smartphone use provides one of the biggest opportunities for m-learning as a future development tool. Though smartphone use is currently limited, the rollout of affordable smartphones that target developing markets - such as Huawei’s US$100 Android phone and the Nokia 215 for US$29 (with a 29 day battery life) - will help to increase access to broadband connectivity and make smartphones accessible for those previously priced out of the market.(8) The public and private sectors would both be remiss if they did not harness these trends to provide new opportunities for higher educational development and job preparation.

    One of the most promising applications of mobile phones in higher education is in connecting higher education institutions more effectively with distance learners. By communicating and sending course materials via mobile phones, students receive more frequent support from their educators and can pursue their education wherever and whenever they want. Mobile phones may also help to reduce the cost of education for distance students. For rural students, the costs incurred from daily transportation to and from school on top of books, tuition and other fees can be prohibitive. Distance learning via e-learning on the computer is one solution, but even that requires access to a computer and internet connection, which excludes many within the target market. It may also be unnecessary. In Nigeria, in 2011, less than five percent of the population had access to a personal computer and Internet while more than 63 percent of the population had mobile phone access.(9) At the beginning of January 2015, Nigeria’s government announced that it aims to connect 50 percent of the population to mobile broadband by the end of 2015,(10) suggesting that mobile phones will continue to be more widely used than computers for Internet access (for South African figures, see graph below). Curricula and content designed for the mobile phone is able to leapfrog the necessity to own or access a computer and provides additional flexibility and cost reductions for the distance learner. Non-distance learners could also benefit from mobile phones through similar cost reductions and access to additional support from teachers, which could help to reduce high dropout rates.(11)

    In South Africa, the exponential growth in mobile phone subscriptions has led mobile usage to far surpass home computer access.

    Data sources: ‘Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)’, World Bank; ‘Census 2011’, Statistics South Africa.

    Mobile phones are also being used to tackle high illiteracy rates and foster skills development for those who have left school. Numerous mobile phone initiatives designed to improve literacy in Africa have been developed by organisations such as UNESCO, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Pearson (an international company that provides educational materials and services), and others. In South Africa, the Yoza Cellphone Stories series have been extremely successful in providing content for readers as well as opportunities for readers to submit their own writing, all via their mobile phones.(12) Other mobile phone initiatives target learners who have dropped out of school by creating platforms that foster skills training in fields like agriculture, business and healthcare. For skills training in agriculture, there are apps that provide users with information on crops, weather patterns and farming, as well as local market prices so that the user can adjust their production accordingly to avoid waste and spoilage.(13) Maurice Nkusi of the Polytechnic of Namibia has developed a fully mobile curriculum for out-of-school learners interested in agriculture. His project provides practical, skills-based courses to help learners gain useful skills, not only in how to grow the actual crops but the requisite business skills necessary to sell them in markets. The curriculum allows students to use mobile phones to do exams, assignments, participate in discussions, and access course content all on a flexible timetable.(14) In addition to Nkusi’s mobile curriculum, other apps such as Gidimo, EduMe and X-kit provide a wide range of educational materials for language learning, exam preparation, tutoring and content to aid in preparation for the job market, such as tips for handling job interviews.(15) These are just a few examples that prove that the size of potential markets for m-learning that cater for adult and out-of-school learners should not be discounted when evaluating the feasibility of m-learning.

    Potential limitations and barriers to m-learning.

    The benefits that would accrue from m-learning are clearly substantial. However, unless the necessary infrastructure and investment is put in place, these benefits will be severely limited. So far, m-learning has yet to be tried on a national scale; its only available track record comes from being implemented in small pilot-programmes. Of the numerous challenges m-learning faces, the current lack of access to broadband connectivity and smartphones is a significant obstacle. Though small-scale m-learning programmes have used SMS and basic Internet platforms successfully, m-learning materials, resources and curricula will remain limited without the ability to use other formats available for smartphones such as PDFs, Word or Excel documents, and interactive applications for taking exams, browsing course content and completing assignments.

    One of the most formidable obstacles to the successful implementation of m-learning on a large scale is diversity of languages. Even with better access to mobile phones, there is a general lack of materials that cater to Africa’s multilingual audience. Though mobile apps and SMS programmes have the potential to reach out-of-school learners (youths and adults alike), without supplementary learning resources and materials available in local languages it is unlikely that m-learning will be widely effective. Compounding this issue is m-learning’s reliance on users who have literacy skills. Without m-learning apps that have speech functions alongside written material and without addressing literacy education in tandem with m-learning, those who are non-literate or semi-literate will be excluded from the potential of m-learning.

    Another substantial challenge for m-learning is whether it can be effectively implemented in less developed African countries, which tend to be in greatest need of bolstering their education systems. So far, m-learning programmes have largely been created in countries with well-established data networks and technological support like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, though network coverage in these countries can still have a significant drop-off in rural areas. For m-learning to be a tool in post-2015 development, improvements in telecommunications infrastructure capable of providing equal network coverage across all regions will be necessary to bridge the rural-urban divide in access to education. Furthermore, without rural areas having equal access to the network coverage, data costs will remain prohibitive and render the adoption of newer handsets expensive and unappealing for rural users.(16) Unequal distribution of mobile networks and technology will greatly undermine the impact of m-learning on education.

    Perhaps the greatest impediment to m-learning is the lack of interest on the part of governments and in educational policies. Though e-learning on the computer has been supported by ministries of education in countries like Kenya and Nigeria, platforms for learning through mobile phones have received little attention and therefore have had little to no support. This lack of awareness is partly due to the continued small-scale nature of m-learning in educational settings.(17) Owing to a lack of government and policy support, it is unlikely that m-learning will be implemented on a large-scale.

    Moving forward: The reality of successfully implementing m-learning in post-2015 development.

    Greater implementation of m-learning could be achieved through the development of educational mobile apps that target learners in local languages as well as platforms that are accessible for the non- or semi-literate learner. This would not only reach students in higher education institutions, but also those outside of school, including adult learners.(18) Implementation could also be improved by continuing to develop systems of mobile learning for the non-smartphone. Until the number of smartphone owners increases significantly, m-learning must continue to be accessible on non-smartphones in order to be widely accessible, which in turn limits the type of materials that can be offered. In the meantime, SMS services that target non-smartphones must be expanded on and continued in order to bridge the gap between non-smartphone users and smartphone users to ensure that purchasing power does not create a stratified learning experience for users. Greater government support of m-learning and investment in mobile networks that support mobile broadband internet is also necessary to vindicate the potential of m-learning.

    Mobile phone learning has caught the attention of major players, including UNESCO, as one possible answer to post-2015 development goals. Small-scale programmes have been largely successful and provide examples for the effect that mobile phones could have on education development, especially through the reduction of costs, improvements in communication and support, increased access to materials, and skills-based and literacy-based mobile curricula. However, despite the benefits witnessed in small-scale implementation, there are significant obstacles for m-learning to surmount, making it a tantalising prospect for Africa’s future, but not one that will have significant impact on education in the short term.


    Emma Hornsby, Consultancy Africa Intelligence ( This paper was developed with the assistance of Sizo Nkala. Edited by Liezl Stretton. Web Publications Manager: Claire Furphy.

    Photo Courtesy: Financial Times.

    This Consultancy Intelligence Edition of the Africa Watch Newsletter is republished here with permission from Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political and economic trends and developments in Africa. For more information, see or

    - In addition to topical discussion papers and tailored research services, CAI releases a number of fortnightly and monthly publications, examining the latest developments in Africa, across a wide range of interest areas. For more information, see or

    This Consultancy Intelligence Edition of the Africa Watch Newsletter is republished here with permission from Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political and economic trends and developments in Africa. For more information, see or

    - In addition to topical discussion papers and tailored research services, CAI releases a number of fortnightly and monthly publications, examining the latest developments in Africa, across a wide range of interest areas. For more information, see or

    (2) ‘UNESCO position paper on education post-2015’, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, February 2014,
    (3) ‘School enrollment, tertiary (% Gross)’, World Bank,
    (4) ‘UNESCO position paper on education post-2015’, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, February 2014,
    (5) Parr, C., ‘Africa’s mobile phone e-learning transformation’, Times Higher Education, 12 September 2013,
    (6) ‘Africa Telecoms Outlook 2014: Maximizing digital service opportunities’, Informa Telecoms & Media, 2013,
    (7) Ibid.
    (8) Jidenma, N., ‘Huawei’s $100 Android phone emerges as Kenya’s best seller’, The Next Web, 24 June 2011,; Smith, A., ‘Meet the world’s cheapest smartphone’, CNN, 5 January 2015,; ‘Emerging world drives cheap smartphone boom’, NDTV Gadgets, 4 March 2015,
    (9) ‘2011 annual socio-economic report: Access to ICT’, National Bureau of Statistics,
    (10) ‘Nigerian Govt. to connect half the population to broadband in 2015’, IT News Africa, 7 January 2015,
    (11) Parr, C., ‘Africa’s mobile phone e-learning transformation’, Times Higher Education, 12 September 2013,
    (12) ‘About the project’, Yoza Project,
    (13) ‘Mobile devices FAQ – What is Nokia Life Tools?’, Microsoft,
    (14) ‘Social Learning: A Namibian experiment’, eLearning Africa, 8 May 2013,
    (15) See Gidimo website,; EduMe website,; or X-Kit website,
    (16) ‘Turning on Mobile Learning in Africa and the Middle East’, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2012,
    (17) Ibid.
    (18) Parr, C., ‘Africa’s mobile phone e-learning transformation’, Times Higher Education, 12 September 2013,

  • Crime Statistics 2014-2015

    On 29 September 2015, Police Minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko, released the crime statistics covering the period 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015. An estimated 1.8 million crimes were reported in that period; police operations detected 356 919 crimes, of which 266 902 were drug-related; and 1.7 million people were arrested. 

    The statistics paint a dismal picture in terms of personal security. Contact crimes, including murder, attempted murder and aggravated robbery are up by 0.9 percent. Murder is up by 4.6 percent bringing the number to 17 805 as opposed to 17 023 the year before. This amounts to 49 people a day or one murder every 30 minutes. The world average for murder rates is 7.6 per 100 000 people, while the South African average comes in at 36.5 per 100 000. 86 police officers were killed in the period, and a total of 1 537 police officers were attacked. 49 murders were committed by children during 2014/15. Attempted murder was up by 3.2 percent, sitting at 17 537. These statistics are all the more disturbing since they reverse, for the third year running, the decrease in this category that has been evident since 1994. The rise in murders in South Africa is also contrary to the international trend, where murder is showing signs of decreasing. Aggravated robbery was up by 8.5 percent. Also on the increase were carjackings, truck hijacking and aggravated business robbery. On average, 207 cases of street robbery were reported daily to the police. Cash in transit robberies were also down for the period under review. 

    One area in which there was a decrease was that of sexual offences, where there was a drop of 5.4 percent, from 56 000 cases last year to 53 617 this year. It has to be borne in mind, though, that statistics in this area are often complicated as the numbers of victims who report especially intimate sexual crimes is notoriously unreliable, so the actual figure might well be higher than those given.  The Minister pointed out that if these statistics were read in terms of 10 and 5 year periods then the one would observe a ‘bigger picture’ of overall decreases in many categories of crime, thus suggesting that these statistics should not be read in isolation.  

    The Minister emphasised in his speech that the crime statistics invite a response not only from the police, but also from the public who have a great role to play in solving crime, and in creating environments which are conducive to alternate forms of conflict resolution and to the restoration of personal and social morality. This is indisputably true, but it does not take away from criticisms levelled at the police. It has been pointed out, for example, by several analysts that crimes such as armed robbery and business robbery are typically crimes committed by organised groups, often consisting of repeat offenders, and usually small in number. Good strategies, judicious use of crime intelligence, and specialised agencies should usually be able to reduce such crimes effectively. Yet these very categories are on the increase. 

    It has also been pointed out that with a budget of about R80bn, state of the art technology, and more than 194 000 personnel, a much better result should be expected in terms of crime reduction. Nor is one able to ignore the demoralisation of many in the police force and the consequence thereof on effective policing. It is also a matter of concern that the head of the police is facing a board of enquiry with regard to her fitness for office; this must have a damaging effect on the morale of the force and indeed on the overall quality of leadership in an area where bold, decisive and creative direction is paramount.  

    Other issues also contribute to the ongoing criminal environment. The correctional services emphasis is still largely based on punishment and not by any means sufficiently on rehabilitation; this contributes to the high recidivism rates and the absorption of offenders into the mainstream of criminal activity. One of the most important contributors to the criminal environment is obviously the enduring and growing inequality in our society, with its attendant anger, desperation, and sense of exclusion from even a minimally decent life. As this becomes more evident, with the rich/poor gap evidenced by greater ostentation on the part of the beneficiaries of good fortune, we must expect the desperation and anger to increase, thus adding to the volatility in our country. These problems can be remedied to some degree by greater political will, wiser leadership and the promotion of more strategic policies and resource allocation; however, public officials and political leadership in the security establishments must be held to a stricter level of accountability on multiple levels.  

    It must be borne in mind that in the period under review the police force incurred civil claims to the tune of R9.5 billion due to misconduct. How this plays out in terms of good example and public trust is questionable: especially since R94.3 million was for assaults. We also need to remember that when public figures and supposed role models are deemed to be beyond the law, such behaviour legitimises antisocial pathologies and allows for the spread of a sense of being above and beyond the law.  

    Finally, it was particularly worrying, in light of the recent wave of xenophobia, that for the first time crimes committed by foreigners were highlighted. There seems to have been no good reason to single out non-South Africans in an environment already riddled with suspicion against them.     

    All South Africans, but especially those who are poor and vulnerable, deserve to know that they can look forward to reasonable security and public safety in a world in which they are forced to battle to uphold their dignity. We need to heed again the insight of Aristotle when he reminded us that ‘poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.’ 

    • Peter-John Pearson is a director at the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference.

  • NGO Approaches Madonsela Over Hitachi

    NGOs asks the Public Protector, to probe Eskom, Chancellor House and the ANC following the damning Hitachi revelations

    The Helen Suzman Foundation has asked Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, to probe Eskom, Chancellor House and the African National Congress (ANC) following the damning Hitachi revelations.
    The request follows recent claims by the United States Securities Exchange Commission about the awarding of Eskom tenders to Hitachi Power Africa.
    The Commission alleged that Hitachi sold a 25 percent interest to Chancellor House, the ANC’s investment arm, in order to land the lucrative contracts at Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile power stations.
    To read the article titled, “Helen Suzman Foundation asks Public Protector to probe Eskom tenders,” click here.

    Times Live

  • TAC Favours Early Treatment for HIV Patients

    Giving HIV patients treatment as soon as possible will reduce the risk of AIDS-related cancer and TB, argues the TAC

    The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) says giving HIV patients treatment as soon as possible will reduce the risk of AIDS related cancer and tuberculosis (TB).
    This comes after the World Health Organisation said HIV patients should be given anti-retroviral drugs soon after diagnosis instead of waiting for their immune cell counts to fall below a certain threshold.
    TAC head of policy, Marcus Louw, says patients on treatment are less likely to transmit HIV to their sexual partner, adding that if more people are on treatment there will be fewer infections in the future.
    To read the article titled, “TAC calls for HIV patients to be given treatment sooner,” click here.