Have you ever wondered when humans first started getting periods?
It's surprisingly difficult to get a concrete answer, but menstruation is believed to have first developed in the anthropoid primate (our common ancestor with monkeys and apes) over 40 million years ago. So, humans started getting periods before we were even fully evolved as humans.
And yet, here we are 40 million years later and — despite periods being an entirely natural, entirely normal part of human life — people are still having to fight for menstrual dignity, health, and education.
That's because of barriers like period poverty (not being able to access the period products, education, facilities, and waste management needed to safely manage a period); a lack of menstrual education; and myths and taboos that leave menstruators stigmatized in society.
In fact, there are at least 500 million women and girls globally who don't have access to the proper facilies they need to hygienically and safely manage their periods.
Thankfully, there are also champions fighting this injustice. We caught up with the phenomenal team behind Qrate, a South African-based organisation that's on a mission to combat period poverty and tackle menstrual injustice.
They largely do this by focusing on making sure young people get the information and education they need to understand their periods and period poverty, through hosting workshops and seminars at schools across South Africa. The idea is to equip young people with the tools and knowledge they need to navigate societal injustices, like period poverty, and make meaningful impact within their communities.
Let's hear more from Qrate about how they're changing the status quo, one period at a time.
GC: Tell us about Qrate’s journey from the beginning to where it is today.
Candice (Founder): Qrate was formed in 2018, I just felt being in academic spaces is something I was often frustrated with. The constant conversations that we had amongst other academics and the information was so important, yet inaccessible, especially for young people.
I was like ‘I am going to create something’, I didn't know what it was going to look like. I knew there needed to be an organisation that can be a reliable source of information for young people to learn about something that happens to them. But we also need to be teaching this information in a very fun way — especially because sexual productive health talk is very, very structured.
Felicia: My company had a nonprofit wing that did a lot of collections of menstrual products and clothing, and donated to them orphanages; and with Qrate now starting to do more for more schools we thought: ‘this is something we can now partner with.’
Selokela: The first time I encountered Qrate was on Twitter, and I just liked the name. I was just curious and then I saw the work that was being done and I thought of many other girls in my community that don't have that kind of access to information because again, as much as we think all young people are on social media, they're not. As soon as I sent the DM, Qrate responded. I was very happy because I had seen some of Candice's work. How the girls interacted with the information and how they have just been able to carry through right up to this day has been so amazing, that made me realize that the work that Qrate does is not just CSI (Corporate Social Investment) work, it's not just a menstrual workshop. There is so much impact there and since then I've always asked myself how I can get involved, and here I am now.
Alexis: I used to follow Candice on Twitter, and I loved the work she was doing. I was doing my first year at university then, I had just come out of high school where I was a part of a program that spoke to girls. I was still very familiar with that, so one day I got into her DMs and I was like, ‘I like the work that you do, it is so cool.’ I just felt empowered by the work she does, but that is all I said. I think after a year they posted wanting volunteers. It had been a while since I was in a space where I got to do something I wanted to do. I have a lot of passion about women and girls, and uplifting them, so I thought let me reach out and get to that space again.
What was the first ever workshop like?
Candice: It came from my history of being a drama student. I've loved teaching students. I spent a week simulating what the right form of the workshops would look like. Our first workshop was with Afrika Tikkun which is a nonprofit company in the fields of education, skills development, and socio-economic upliftment — and that was a trial run. I had no idea whether it was going to work or not, but I was basically going through notes that I'd made. We had a group of 14 girls, and I was very nervous, I wasn't sure whether it was gonna work or not. But it did!
Selokela: In my first workshop all I thought I was going to get from Candice was a Qrate T-shirt, but no [laughs], there was a bag with period products and a presentation, that made me realise what the work we do is and that there is time put into this; there is research, at the end of the day we are dealing with people’s lives. When we speak to those children, we could either make or break them and it is really important to understand that. Having the moment with Candice and my first workshop was fulfilling. I got to share knowledge. In so many ways, the work that I have done at Qrate has helped me heal the little girl in me who wasn't always validated.
Take me through a typical workshop. How does it work? Do workshops differ?
Selokela: Usually the content is the same, but context is very important. Sometimes you find that you are given a whole day with a school, then there’s times where you are told you have “X” amount of time. There was a time where we had 10 minutes. I had to speak to 400 girls about periods in 10 minutes and make sure they understood! We cut down what we had to cut down, but we also gave them what was valuable. So that also plays into how much content we can get through. We have icebreakers as well, we have things like true or false quizzes, and short movies to show. Other people ask for a link to watch our content in their free time, and others will just be happy with what we are there to provide them with.
How has Qrate been able to operate on the grassroots level? And what does the business and partnership side of the organisation look like?
Candice: Collaborations are great but purely from a service space. It gets difficult, I think that is often a frustrating issue I find myself in. It does not help the course, it does not fund the facilitators, or transport, people often underestimate the costs. When they do ask for the costs it is always the conversation of, ‘can we water the numbers down?’ Because we are a nonprofit the work is assumed to be free. But that is time, that is energy, that is research, that is resources. It is something I don't know whether men in the business are more respected. When a man talks about the same work that I do, men listen more and are willing to engage and work on a partnership with them than they are with me. Why is it that men are taken more seriously? I don’t know.
Selokela, you're a radio host and a creative. One of the strongest mediums of advocacy is creativity, how do you forge this creative nature into your role as a Qrate facilitator and school coordinator?
Selokela: I'm also passionate about two other things: communication and community. And that is what has made my contribution to Qrate meaningful. It's a community of girls. It's a community of people that are very curious to get knowledge. It's also a space of effective communication. We don't just talk to the people in the workshops, they are entirely part of the process. So for me it feels natural every time there's a debrief meeting, every time there is a workshop, it just feels natural.
Alexis, as a student you are majoring in biochemistry and microbiology. How do you merge that up with Qrate?
Alexis: When I was in high school, I was in a situation where I had to be a part of something I was not sure I was capable of doing and someone talked me into doing it. I wanted to one day say, 'yeah I did it'. The experiences I have had in my life have molded me a lot into who I have become, I also really wanted to pay forward for every good thing and everyone that has helped me.
Felicia, how has your entrepreneurship background and personal experiences merged into Qrate?
Felicia: I grew up with women. So for the most part of my life I was with my grandma and my aunt, and I was just like, ‘oh, no, the woman makes the world go round’, maybe not necessarily, but to me. And I think it was a subconscious thing that I carried throughout my life.
Then I went to university. I realised there are still a lot of girls and women and children that don't have backing because they're women, particularly Black women. There is always something, whether it's your gender, race, your background. I was always a behind-the-scenes person. Jumping into Qrate has helped me, as opposed to the person who organised all the things, I can put together all of these things and you'll never know who did but I'd be happy.
This has given me an opportunity to learn more. I am not a public speaking type of person but I've learned. I used to be very intimidated speaking in front of people. Now I speak in front of 1,000 kids and I'm like, well, if I crumble, they're gonna feed off their energy. And I think my background in entrepreneurship is tied into Qrate because I am good with doing anything behind the scenes.