Johannesburg - Despite working overtime at a government hospital and having her hands full as a new mom, Dr Nokukhanya Khanyile didn’t hesitate when approached to collaborate on a book of huge significance.
Within moments of discussion, the well-known doctor gave her stamp of approval and agreed to lend her expertise to a book which focuses on menstruation.
It was an opportunity that Khanyile couldn’t miss despite having little to no time on her hands.
“As a new mom, a medical doctor working in a government hospital and a young woman myself, I have seen first-hand how dangerous – physically and psychologically – the wrong or biased information about menstruation can be,” said Khanyile.
“I sometimes imagine my husband talking to my daughter about menstruation. I want to be able to give him language that he can use that both he and her are comfortable using that’s also safe and welcoming.”
With that in mind, Khanyile teamed up with multi-award-winning businesswoman Farah Fortune and primary school teacher Thandazile Ndlovu to create the book Tidi Talks: Periods, which is a guide for parents and the youth on the journey of menstruation, through storytelling.
Despite all three women leading extremely busy lives, they spent numerous hours on video call discussing ideas and wrote the book without actually having to meet face to face.
“It was such a flawless process,” said Khanyile.
“Now, you must understand that I am a medical doctor who works overtime, Thandazile has a full-time job as a foundation phase teacher with a young daughter at home and Farah is running her own company. We made it work by online meetings, we’ve actually never had a face-to-face sit-down.”
The book, which will be launched in August, is the brainchild of Fortune, who developed the idea.
“I work within the young girls and women space regarding health education with a specific focus on menstruation,” said Fortune. “Last year I ran a series on my Instagram through live interviews with kids, dads, moms and doctors on menstruation and all its perspectives. It garnered so much attention and even after the series was complete, I had people DM’ing (sic) and calling constantly on advice around menstruation education for parents and their kids.
“It only made sense to pursue the book and give a better ‘how to guide’ regarding menstruation and the conversations around the topic.”
The book, said Fortune, is a guide to help parents and kids understand menstruation better.
It is written in a way that is easily understandable for both young and old.
“The book was written by me, a doctor, and a primary school teacher. Each of us bring a perspective to the book and Thandazile Ndlovu, who works in the education space, was able to guide us through the language and make it age appropriate for everyone who reads it,” said Fortune.
“We also use simple language so that dismissive language such as ‘red robot’, aunty flo and such will eventually phase out and we can say the words ‘period’ and ‘menstruation’ without shame.”
The three women each bring their own detailed perspective to the book from their fields of expertise.
“I honestly think that’s what makes this book such a must-have for any parent,” said Fortune. “I had originally asked Dr Khanya to get involved with the book and it was her opinion we pull an education expert in, which happened to be Thandazile. From the get-go, both these women provided a much-needed perspective I could never have supplied to the book by myself.
“I had known Dr Khanya for a while but only met Thandazile when we started writing the book, over Zoom. The three of us wrote this book entirely over Zoom calls and WhatsApp messages.”
Fortune believes there is a huge need for a book of this nature and says she was thrilled to be part of the process.
“There is a huge need for basic menstruation education in general and a better supply of menstruation tools and sanitary ware generally. If more education were around this subject, school attendance amongst young women would increase, gender-based violence figures could be brought down, teenage pregnancy wouldn’t be as prominent, menstruation as a topic wouldn’t be so shameful amongst our young boys.
“I could honestly go on for a while about the positive effects menstruation education would have on any society as a whole.”
She hopes that the book also helps to assist in starting more conversations around menstruation in South Africa, as she believes the topic isn’t spoken about enough in the country.
“I also understand we are still changing as society and this conversation is sometimes restricted due to religious or cultural beliefs. However, we need to remember there is nothing wrong with a normal bodily function happening to you.”
Fortune added that one of the biggest focuses when developing the book was making sure they represented as many cultures as possible, tribes and skin tones in the book.
“It needed to be representative of anyone who picked the book up. One of the easiest parts of the book was naming the characters as we each got to name a character after someone special in our lives. One of the main characters friends is named after my daughter, Laila.”
Fortune said those interested in the book would gain an understanding of how to peruse the conversation of menstruation.
“It will also make the process of this conversation a much easier part of parenting plus give a child an opportunity to ask questions without shame or embarrassment.”
Khanyile, a doctor specialising in paediatrics, also believes the book is much needed in a country like South Africa.
“Because of the huge socio-economic inequality in our communities, there is a significant amount of misinformation, stigma and dangerous practices surrounding menstruation. This book helps give young menstruators and soon-to-be menstruators accurate, safe information in a user-friendly manner. It also provides tools for parents and caregivers of menstruators to start having open and honest conversations about menstruation without the perceived shame and embarrassment.”
Khanyile is always inundated with questions about menstruation from both young and old. She is hoping that the book will help in allowing the youth and older women to better understand menstruation.
“The most frequent questions are surrounding concerning symptoms such as heavy bleeding, severe pain and the common causes of a missed period that aren’t due to pregnancy. You can expect a broad range of characters in the book that we can all see represented in our lives. They have similar problems, questions and fears like most of us, but, importantly, they have conversations that are open, honest, free of shame and stigma but also very easy to understand.
“We use anatomically correct terms for things but avoid medical jargon that can be confusing with a few jokes in there (yes, I did throw in some of my dry humour!).
Primary school teacher and mom Thandazile Ndlovu said she was delighted that a book of such huge importance would now be made available to young girls in South Africa.
“I think a book of this nature is extremely important because open conversations about periods are never had with our youth,” said Ndlovu.
“This book aims to open conversations between parents, guardians, teachers, aunts, uncles, godparents etc. with young girls who may go through their periods and explain to them that it’s a normal part of their journey and what to expect and how to deal with all the things that come with a period.
“We want to equip their brothers, friends, cousins and uncles with the tools to understand how they can help during periods, especially when they first start because this is usually the most confusing time for young girls.”
She added that young girls in South Africa face many challenges when it comes to menstruation and hopes the book would provide some helpful insight to young girls who are going through menstruation.
“I remember reading that in 2021 the statistics were sitting at about three in 10 girls missing out on school when they're on their period each month. This is mainly due to lack of access to sanitary pads, so that is definitely a huge issue. There is definitely a lack of education around what the start of a period means for a young girl’s body, the changes that come from month to month and how to handle them.”
She said the book holds a special place in her heart and agreeing to be part of it was an easy decision.
“The book is on a topic that we're all passionate about but also, it's a chance to see characters that look like us and our daughters, that have names that are representative of our worlds, and we don't see that as often as we'd like to. When Nokukhanya approached me, it was a no-brainer because I just thought I wish I had a book like that when I was young and I’m so glad I can give this book to my daughter.”
Asked if she had a message for young South African girls who are beginning menstruation, Ndlovu said: “You're not alone and aren't the only one feeling overwhelmed. Take your time to get to know and be kind to your body.
Tidi Talks: Periods will be available in August this year.