Period poverty refers to the lack of access to sanitary products and hygiene facilities to manage menstruation. This remains a prevalent issue in South Africa.
Although the government scrapped the 15% Value Added Tax on menstrual products in 2019, a move that helped to make them more affordable and accessible, there are still many in South Africa that cannot afford to prioritise the purchase of sanitary products.
Research conducted by Stellenbosch University has found that an estimated 30% of girls in South Africa do not attend school while they are menstruating because they cannot afford sanitary products.
This can set girls behind their male peers in classes and therefore deprive them of equal opportunities. Bongani Majola, chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, highlights that a lack of access to sanitary products can have a ripple effect on the entire population.
“It is not just the girls and women who benefit from having proper menstrual hygiene, the broader society and national economies can profit from better menstruation management,” Majola said in a statement.
A new generation of nonprofit organisations run by young women with influential digital platforms has come into the picture to aid the fight against period poverty.
These organisations go beyond supplying pads and tampons to those who cannot afford them; they also seek to empower women and educate young people about menstruation in the hopes to normalise the conversation.
1. Qrate ZA
Menstruation activist and educator, Candice Chirwa, created a significant organisation that aims to teach children about stigmatised subjects such as mental health, masculinity, and menstruation.
Qrate focuses on developing critical thinking skills in young people so they may engage with socio-economic issues that will affect them in the future.
“I’ve realised that critical engagement and discourse on stigmatised social issues that have beset our country are important to provide in a child-friendly manner and can potentially provide an alternative way to empower the next generation,” Chirwa tells Global Citizen.
Along with creating resources for teachers and parents that help to educate children on these subjects, Qrate also hosts menstruation workshops to introduce the topic to young people and encourage them to speak openly and positively about periods.
“Our workshops provide an opportunity for the next generation to learn about menstruation in a safe, interactive, and fun environment, and at the same time normalise the topic,” says Chirwa.
While Qrate is based in the Gauteng province, Chirwa is hoping to expand the organisation in order to start running workshops across the country in 2021.
Chirwa, also known as “The Minister of Menstruation” on social media, has also hosted a TEDx talk based on the fact that periods should not be considered a taboo topic.
2. The Cora Project
Disheartened by the vulnerability of women during the national COVID-19 lockdown, as well as the injustices that women and girls face every day, sisters Aurora and Cleopatra Marcopoulos did their research on period poverty in South Africa and decided to launch The Cora Project.
“We want to empower and support girls and women and not let their periods act as a barrier to achieving their full potential,” the sisters tell Global Citizen.
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The organisation provides sanitary products to those in need in the Cape Town region, however their impact goes beyond the Western Cape province.
The Cora Project uses social media to share their mission with young people across the country. Their colourful and insightful social pages help to educate the public and encourage open discussions about period poverty in order to eradicate the stigma surrounding menstruation.
“We have a weekly segment called #PeriodPower which involves women from all different walks of life speaking openly about any period experience they have had,” the sisters explain. “We [also] have another segment called #BloodyNormal, in which we debunk period myths and share period facts to help educate our followers.”
In August, for South Africa’s Women’s Month, the organisation ran a campaign called #RunForHerSA. It was launched as a virtual run and donate challenge where participants could go for a run in their own neighbourhood at any time, then share the challenge with their friends and followers on social media to encourage them to join in.
“The #RunForHerSA campaign, managed to raise enough money for reusable pads that last five years and menstrual health workshops for almost 200 schoolgirls.”
3. The Siyasizana Foundation
Founded by Instagram influencer Dineo Nono, alongside YouTuber and content creator, Mihlali Ndamase, the Siyasizana Foundation aims to uplift children in South Africa by making sure that no child has a reason to go without education.
According to the South African Human Rights Commission, the lack of sanitary products can result in girls being absent from or dropping out of school.
An important part of achieving Siyasizana Foundation’s mission includes distributing sanitary pads to girls in need. Every year the organisation holds a Pad Drive that helps to provide schools and women’s shelters with sanitary pads with the help of donations from private companies and the public.
Nono and Ndamase also prioritise hosting women’s empowerment events, stationary donation drives and food drives in order to provide the basic necessities for children to be able to go to school without lacking anything.