Girls empowered during 16-day campaign

Girls are taught how to make reusable sanitary pads through the New Heritage Foundation.

A girls’ programme took a different approach as part of their 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign by combating period poverty.

The UN campaign takes place annually from November 25 (International Day of No Violence against Women) to December 10 (International Human Rights Day).

NPO New Heritage Foundation started their ending period poverty programme by handing out sanitary pads but they found that they needed a long-term plan to make sure that girls remain in school during their menstrual cycle.

Girls are often mocked or made to feel insecure about their periods which leads to them staying out of staying out of school and this makes them vulnerable to sexual violence, teenage pregnancy and suicide, said NPO founder Chantelle Goliath.

“Many girls menstruate without dignity when they do not have pads and others make fun of them when they are on their period, bleed through their uniform or make them feel insecure. This then leads to them not wanting to attend school which then could lead to so many other things so we had to take a holistic approach,” she said.

A group of girls with organisers at the event held on Wednesday December 6.

The organisation then started information programmes with girls across Cape Town to debunk menstruation myths, to create awareness and educate both boys and girls about what menstruation is. Another important aspect of the programme is menstrual hygiene management where girls are taught about which pads to use, how to dispose of pads and how they manage their period.

This also led to further conversations around teenage pregnancy, Sexual Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and other issues teens deal with.

One of these programmes was hosted at Jolly Carp in Retreat on Wednesday December 6 in partnership with NPO Arise: Pain2Power.

Ms Goliath, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2017, was also a victim of period poverty growing up and often had to use toilet paper or had to use a pad for 12 hours or more – these things, she learnt, all could contribute to cervical cancer.

“I realised that it’s a pandemic. Seven million young girls and women menstruate without dignity in the country and girls are not just missing out on activities but also school and everyday life.”

She said there are also menstruation stigma and period myths – some believe sitting next to boys makes them bleed more.

“Girls often don’t understand their bodies because parents or guardians don’t have conversations with their children about menstruation or their bodies so many are confused about what’s happening to them. Some even feel that menstruation is a curse so our programme addresses all of this,” she said.

The organisation does these programmes at schools and gatherings and distributes reusable pads because they realised the girls would give disposable pads to family or friends and wouldn’t have any pads for themselves.

Chantelle Goliath at one of the programmes.

The organisation also teaches girls how to make reusable pads for themselves and others.

“This is one of the ways we are addressing period poverty and to stop girls from using toilet paper or using a pad too long. We need these girls to be healthy and reach the next phase in their life where they are employed and can become change makers by paying forward the knowledge,” said Ms Goliath.

Activist and counsellor Dawn Fish said the programme is important because it gives girls a platform to talk about important issues like STDs, abuse from boyfriends, and sexual reproductive health.

“Within the 16 Days of the Activism campaign we encourage these girls to talk about it 365 days of the year. We need to talk about it, raise awareness, give our support and listen and encourage women to break the silence and that starts with our young girls.

“Girls already have boyfriends who are controlling, who dictate to them, abuse them and force them to have unprotected sex so we have to educate them and teach them how to say no, set boundaries and exercise self-honour and self respect.”