: According to research conducted by Stellenbosch University Hospital, 30% of young girls in South Africa are affected by period poverty. The dimensions of period poverty go beyond access to sanitary and hygiene products and extend to the overall well-being of young girls and women in society. For this reason, tackling period poverty requires a multi-pronged approach. This is the conviction behind the recently launched Kotex® Stay YOUnique School Programme which has been successfully rolled out in several schools in Johannesburg.
The launch of the Programme coincided with this year’s International Day of the Girl Child (IDGC) on 11 October. As an initiative of the United Nations, the day serves to provide a global advocacy platform for greater awareness around the full spectrum of girls’ rights. Among these are the right to safety, education, and human dignity. In line with this, the Stay YOUnique Programme aims to address the need for young girls to have access to the tools and information they need to manage their menstrual cycles.
Commenting on this is Kotex® Marketing Manager, Caitlin Meredith, who says that the Programme’s mission is to “ensure that no period ever gets in the way of any women’s progress. Through the Stay YOUnique Programme, we hope to champion the cause against period poverty and strive towards building a society where every individual, regardless of their socioeconomic status, can uphold their right to health, equality, and dignity.”
Champions of change: starting in the classroom
As part of the first phase of the programme, Kotex visited Fairsand Primary School, where sanitary pads were donated to young learners.
Present on the day was renowned health advocate, digital creator and Kotex® Brand Ambassador, Dr Nosipho Danielle Mhlanga, who conducted entertaining and informative sessions focused on educating young leaders on some of the issues that pertain to period poverty. The importance of this educational component to the programme cannot be overstated, particularly in light of the need to address the shame and stigma that surrounds menstrual health issues in South Africa.
A research paper published in the Journal of Global Health Reports sheds light on the fact that period poverty materialises in several ways that go beyond issues of accessibility and affordability. The study found that among other challenges, period poverty is characterised by a lack of data and limited research on the scale of the problem. Furthermore, period poverty has been found to have profound effects on girls’ emotional and mental health due to its connection to culturally related alienation or ‘period exile.’
The unfortunate reality is that in South Africa, 1 in 4 girl learners who menstruate misses’ school on a monthly basis because of lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and support. For this reason, as Dr Mhlanga asserts, early, school-level intervention is imperative to dealing with the problem and making a difference on the ground, where it matters most.
As she explains: “when we talk about period poverty, we need to go beyond the biological aspects of menstruation and participate in discussions about the socio-economic challenges some girls face in affording menstrual products. By raising awareness, we can also break societal taboos and contribute to creating an inclusive and compassionate environment for young girls and women.
Ultimately, educating young girls about period poverty is an investment into their well-being, self-esteem, and success as individuals. Initiatives such as the Stay YOUnique Programme can help pave the way for a future where no girl is held back by something as natural as her period.”
The bigger picture: accessibility and beyond
In the weeks to follow, Dr Mhlanga and the team at Kotex® will be engaging with parents, teachers, local community leaders and healthcare professionals in seeking and formulating practical solutions to period poverty. In doing so, the programme hopes to provide open forums for further conversations in families and communities on a grassroots level, giving young girls a voice with which to challenge stereotypes and stigmas.
As Meredith concludes: “the programme will continue the work it has started throughout schools in Gauteng, but we are also committed to a longer term goal, which is to provide individuals and communities with resources that can uplift and empower them in their efforts to support this important cause.
As such, we will be publishing digital resources in the form of interactive question-and-answer sessions, tutorials, engaging video content and practical tips on Dr Mhlanga’s platforms as well as Kotex®’s dedicated webpage for young girls and parents. Period poverty is not just a women’s issue; it’s a human rights issue, and our collective efforts are vital in fostering a world where menstruation is never a barrier to basic human rights.”