The fight to end period poverty in South Africa

How the non-profit initiative “Indoni yamanzi” provides products and promotes female empowerment

By Unathi Notywala

 

Growing up in a South African township is tough, especially for girls and young women like me. My name is Unathi Notywala. I was born in the rural area of Qumbu in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and grew up in the informal settlement of Capricorn in Cape Town. Capricorn is reputedly the oldest informal settlement in the Western Cape and about a 30-minutes-drive from Cape Town city centre. Security is a major problem within the settlement: Crime- and violence-rates are very high, with many active gangs and widespread drug abuse. Especially the weakest members of the community – women and children – suffer constantly from the spiral of violence.

 

Credits_Indoni_yamanzi_WECF
Credits: Indoni yamanzi

South Africa in general has notoriously high levels of gender-based violence. The latest police figures show that alone in the first quarter of 2022 more than 10,800 rape cases were reported in the country. But that’s not the only thing that makes life more difficult for females in South Africa. Female health and especially everything in connection with the female period is still a widely spread taboo subject. A study by Stellenbosch University Hospital has shown that 30 percent of young girls in South Africa are affected by period poverty. This means, they do not have secure access to basic period products. The consequences are far-reaching:  The study suggests that one in three South African girls between the ages of nine and 18 is unable to attend school for several days every month during her menstrual period – jeopardizing educational opportunities that are of immense importance to gender equality. With an average menstruation length of four to five days, an educational gap of about 60 days every year can easily be assumed as a result, which is putting the affected girls at a significant disadvantage in an already unequal society.

Even though my childhood in Capricorn wasn’t easy at all, I was very lucky. My mother always created a safe space at home, gave me the opportunity to graduate from university and helped me become the empowered woman I am today. My goal is to create a safe space for other girls and young women in my community and to be the role model that so many girls in South African communities need to change their lives.

Credits: Indoni yamanzi
Credits: Indoni yamanzi

My vision is a society that is committed to the well-being of all human beings. This includes working for equal access to essential products. Access to menstrual products, and the right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma is essential for all menstruating individuals. Therefore, I founded the non-profit initiative “Indoni yamanzi” together with my sister Sive Notywala and our German friend Hanna Badenhop. “Indoni yamanzi” is a term in Zulu, the most widespread language in South Africa. It means “berry of the waters” and stands for a young woman with respect, dignity and pride.

In the framework of Indoni yamanzi we educate girls and young women in disadvantaged communities about their periods and the female body through quarterly workshops. We believe that only with information and education the widespread stigma can be reduced and a new self-confidence for the female members of communities can be developed. At the same time we provide our participants with a continual access to menstrual products. The provision of products is intended to prevent the girls and young women from being excluded from social life and school education during their period.

Credits_Indoni_yamanzi_WECF
Credits: Indoni yamanzi

I know that our work with Indoni yamanzi has only just begun, and we are still a very small organization. However, I hope our scope and impact will grow steadily, so that we can make growing up in a South African township a little less tough – for girls and young women like me.

 

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