Taxi drivers might not be your main port of call when it comes to tackling period poverty.
However, for many passengers lucky enough to get into Kamogelo Mampatla Betha’s taxi, the South African is a hero — particularly if they’re in need of a spare sanitary pad.
Betha, from Lebowakgomo in Limpopo, reportedly buys sanitary towels out of his own pocket and then keeps them in his taxi to hand out to passengers when they’re caught short without period products.
The 31-year-old told Drum magazine that he started the initiative in May 2018 as a way to help his passengers have a less stressful time when they’re on their period.
”The idea to stock up on pads came about after I noticed that some of the school kids I transport to school every day would stain the seats of the car in the morning,” he said.
“Sometimes I would even find toilet paper they had used for their menstruation and that affected me because I realised that some people cannot afford pads,” he continued. “It’s really sad, people are very poor and cannot afford such cheap items.”
According to Menstrual Hygiene Day, a global organisation that brings together governments, business, civil society, and the media to keep the spotlight on menstrual health challenges and management, an estimated 3.7 million girls and young women in South Africa alone can’t afford sanitary products.
This is despite the government announcing last year that there will no longer be a 15% value-added tax (VAT) charged for sanitary products.
The decision — and others supporting menstrual health management (MHM), such as providing free pads at schools — follows massive campaigning by activists and organisations that include Global Citizen.
Not having access to sanitary pads forces people to adopt unhygienic and unsafe practices like using tissue paper, socks, newspaper, and other products instead.
It can also have a detrimental effect on students going to school — instead staying home because of pain, stigma, or embarrassment.
This, the Human Rights Commission of South Africa states on their website, “inflicts indignity upon millions of women and girls.”
“There is no dignity without basic necessities such as sanitary napkins,” the website adds. “This perpetuates a culture of silence that forces many to cope in isolation.”
The problems of the students taking his taxi really woke Betha up to the global issue of period poverty and menstrual hygiene management — and so he started doing what he could to alleviate his passengers’ suffering.
“I was so touched and realised that most women see their menstruation cycle unaware and unprepared for that,” Betha told Daily Sun.
He added: “As a driver of a taxi, I knew that it's time for me to always have pads in my taxi so that in times of such situations I can assist.”
He is not just handing out sanitary pads, either. He also wants his passengers to feel comfortable and open, and actively encourages them to ask for help without feeling any shame.
"I always tell them that they must speak out. Some [female passengers] send their friends to me and ask on their behalf and that is not right,” he told Daily Sun.
“I'm aware that they are afraid because people still believe that taxi drivers are violent people with a bad attitude all the time but it's not all of us,” he added.
He’s also encouraging other taxi drivers to be more empathetic to their passengers and what their needs might be — and encouraging men to care more about menstruation too.
"It's time that we teach men that menstruation circle is a natural thing that our sisters, girlfriends, and wives must go through on a monthly basis and respect them,” he said.
He added: “I so wish that taxi drivers can stop shouting at women when they leave blood on the taxi seats because it's a natural thing that is beyond her control.”