By Letshego Morake, who is part of the Global Citizen Fellowship Program 2020.
Born and bred in Diepkloof, in Soweto, Lesego Motshwane is challenging the way South Africans approach gynaecological and women's health issues.
This young and courageous activist is a public relations and communications specialist who has more than 10 years' experience in the communications space. She started her career at Eskom as a communications practitioner with House of Gurus PR and Communications.
But Motshwane has been battling endometriosis, adenomyosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), for many years — all conditions that are far too often overlooked.
Endometriosis is a condition that affects about 1 in every 10 women worldwide; and yet it is greatly underdiagnosed, particularly in young people, with an average delay to diagnosis of eight to 10 years.
Motshwane was officially diagnosed with endometriosis 10 years ago, after about 11 years of effort to finally get her diagnosis right. She was also diagnosed with uterine adenomyosis in January 2019. She has so far had five laparoscopies to remove endometriosis and ovarian cysts.
She is not on any treatment at the moment as the treatments she has tried haven't worked on her. Some have made her condition even worse, with treatments offered for endometriosis patients right now being similar to chemotherapy, according to Mothswane, with the potential to have long-term side effects.
Despite battling with these issues herself, Motshwane still waves the solidarity flag high as she helps others facing similar problems, while also working as a gender activist; women’s health advocate; founder of the Seratabatho Foundation, which supports women facing gynaecological issues; and president of World Youth Leading Change Africa, alongside her work with World Women Leading Change.
Global Citizen spoke with Motshwane, to find out more about her activism, and why she believes it's so important to help others, and particularly women experiencing health issues.
Global Citizen: What inspired you to do the work that you're doing?
LM: As an endometriosis and adenomyosis patient, there was no one there to explain to me what these diseases are about and how these diseases would impact my life. I took a decision to start educating the community about gynaecological conditions and also put together a support structure for patients. That is how the Seratabatho Foundation was born.
Being a member of the World Women Leading Change is a bonus for me, as I get to oversee youth development and empowerment activities in Africa. It is very fulfilling.
Why is tackling this issue so important to you and your community?
There are young girls who miss school due to painful periods and they are told that it is “normal”, but the painful menstruation could be dysmenorrhea caused by endometriosis, for example. It is very important that they get evaluated for endometriosis or other gynaecological conditions before it is too late.
Early diagnosis and treatment makes a huge difference, meaning that education around endometriosis and other gynaecological conditions is vital.
What has been the most challenging thing you have experienced in your work?
Ignorance, especially from the doctors — you find doctors who believe that endometriosis is just painful periods, but endometriosis is far beyond painful periods.
The number of Endo Warriors [those living with endometriosis] who die by suicide due to suffering an amount of intolerable pain is also very worrying.
What has been your favourite moment, or what moments have stood out for you?
Being able to secure opportunities for the youth. The one-on-one sessions that our youth have with local and international dignitaries, the joy on their faces is priceless.
Why do you think it is important for young people to be involved in activism and driving positive change?
They are not only doing it for themselves but also securing opportunities for future generations; they will be securing better medical care for future generations as well.
What would you say to young people out there who want to have a positive impact?
Be willing to help people. Sometimes it’s not about just leaving an impact on people but doing the work that leaves the impact done.
Powered by BeyGOOD, the Global Citizen Fellowship Program unearths African youth with remakrable potential. Through the program, 10 young people will each engage in a paid, year-long fellowship aligned to one of Global Citizen's four pillars of activity: creative, campaigns, rewards, and marketing. You can find out more about the Global Citizen Fellowship Program here.