Johannesburg - Candice Chirwa knows the importance of holding an important title such as the “Minister of Menstruation” in the country.
It comes with exceedingly hard work.
“Being the Minister of Menstruation has been an incredible journey, advocating for the right of so many menstruators in South Africa to have access to period dignity,” Chirwa told the Saturday Star.
“Approximately seven million South African girls do not have access to period products whilst an estimated 30% of school girls can not go to school due to their period.
“If girls are not in school, they are most likely going to experience a set of devastating circumstances such as teenage pregnancy and child marriage.
“And if they do go to school they often have to use unhygienic materials such as leaves, newspaper, sand, old cloths which are not safe and ultimately can result in Urinary Tract Infections.”
Her role as involves advocating for menstrual health and working to reduce the stigma, shame and misinformation surrounding menstruation.
“Creating this online platform has created a safe space for many girls and non-menstruators to learn about it, but also to promote menstrual education and awareness.”
For years, author, activist and thought leader has worked endlessly to try and change the disempowering narrative around period stigma.
As a result she has become well known around the globe and locally for her contribution to the fight against period stigma.
She has also became a TEDx speaker and has partnered as a brand ambassador with a well-known period company.
In 2021, Candice co-authored Flow The Book About Menstruation with Kwela Books and has so far collaborated with companies such as Nedbank, DStv, Salome, Shoprite, Mini Cooper to provide more awareness around period poverty.
Now, Chirwa is taking her work on the road, embarking on a nationwide tour into peri urban areas where most of the females are affected due to economical and religious barriers.
She launched the #PeriodPositiveTour and will travel to all parts of the country to ensure that access to menstrual education is available.
Her tour, which is hosted by my Non-Profit organisation, QRATE, began last week in Mothotlung and Bethanie in the North West.
“We hosted menstruation workshops for 125 girls at four schools: Mothlake, Mohajane, Bethanie and Dimapo Primary Schools. The reception has been welcomed by the girl learners and staff members expressing their gratitude not only for the period product donations but also the period positive education being delivered.
“While there is still a lot of work to be done, we are very grateful for the opportunity to go into school to demystify and provide edutainment surrounding periods.”
Chirwa says when she started her period, she had no access to affirming, empowering and educational content that prepared her for this stage of puberty.
“When I started my journey as a menstrual activist, the research that young girls still felt like they were terrified when their first period came, motivated me to change the disempowering narrative surrounding periods.
“Menstruators deserve education as it is a normal and natural biological process that affects more than half of the world’s population.
“Menstrual education can help to girls better understand their bodies, manage their menstrual cycles, and address any health concerns they may have.
“It also helps reduce stigma and misinformation surrounding menstruation, and promote gender equality by empowering women and girls to fully participate in society.”
She said it was important to expand Qrate’s mission to deliver #Eduliftment4Kids (a social cohesion of education and upliftment) to more young people in the country.
Chirwa plans to travel to Limpopo, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, Mpumalanga, and possibly Lesotho and Botswana too.
“A lot of research around period education has shown that when a young girl is not informed about puberty and menstruation, they feel isolated and ashamed and this should not be case especially because menstruation is considered as the final stage of puberty, and puberty is inevitable part of being a human being.
“So the #PeriodPositiveTour seeks to bring factual, reliable and empowering educational content in the format of fun workshops to instill confidence within people who menstruate and non-menstruators (ie men).”
She said at the end of the workshops, they will hand out certificates and period products and make the participants do a period pledge to keep a promise to themselves to see periods positively.
“At Qrate, we’re always looking for partnerships to increase our scale of impact to reach more young people.”
Around 62 million girls across Africa stay out of school due to a biological function and access to products.
“There is a lack of menstrual hygiene management: Many girls in Africa do not have access to sanitary pads or tampons, or do not know how to properly manage their periods. Poverty is also a big factor. The cost of sanitary pads can be prohibitively high for many girls and women living in poverty in Africa. This forces them to use makeshift solutions that can be unsanitary and uncomfortable.”
Chirwa says if she was president for the day , she would tackle the gender inequality crisis immediately.
“We need to provide access to education. Education is a powerful tool for empowering women and girls and can help to break the cycle of poverty and inequality. The government can invest in education programs that target women and girls, and work to remove any barriers to education that they face.
We need to improve healthcare services. Access to quality healthcare is critical for women and girls, particularly in the areas of reproductive health and maternal care. The government can work to expand healthcare services and improve the quality of care, particularly in rural and remote areas. We really need to address gender-based violence. South Africa has high levels of gender-based violence, and it is important to address this issue in order to ensure the safety and well-being of women and girls.
“We also need to engage with men and boys. Addressing gender inequality in South Africa requires the engagement of men and boys, as they play a crucial role in shaping attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls.”
Chirwa says she wants menstrual health to be part of the human rights agenda and wants government to finally prioritise menstrual health.
“Menstruation matters to me..when we think about how people often portray or speak about periods, it is usually in a negative light. It fascinates me how a natural and biological event carries a lot of taboos and myths restricting social behaviours.
“Last year, Scotland became the first country to make period products free and available in schools and for menstruators who can’t afford them. India’s Supreme Court was proud to declare a renouncement of the ban on menstruating women entering holy sites. The UK has launched a global fund to eliminate period poverty by the year 2050.
“South Africa needs to do something about ending period poverty, and QRATE is spearheading that movement.”