He is making small inroads in the bustling township but Monatisi, 30, said he knows that many teens like 15-year-old Xolisiwe Zimbini Mxhengwana still miss school during their periods because they cannot afford to buy sanitary towels.
A Grade 10 learner at Masiyile Senior Secondary School, Mxhengwana said she stays home when her time of the month comes. She knows other girls who also bunk class or use unhygienic alternatives such as newspapers, socks, towels, leaves and toilet paper to be able to participate in everyday life.
“My family always struggle when it is that time of the month about whether to buy food or sanitary towels,” she told OurHealth. “I’ve had to bunk class because my period came and we had we no money to buy any”.
On average, a young girl’s cycle can take anywhere from three to six days.
“My first few days are the heaviest and that is when I skip class,” said Mxhengwana.
With Mxhengwana and other women like her in mind, Monatisi started The Sanitary Pad Distribution in Khayelitsha. He now coordinates the project to provide young women in schools and the community access sanitary towels.
Monatisi said he was inspired by the similar National Youth Development Agency’s (NYDA) Sanitary Towel Distribution Project and wanted to make sure help reached Khayelitsha teens. Reading about a Langa teenager who used newspapers for pads was the final straw.[quote float= right]My family always struggle when it is that time of the month about whether to buy food or sanitary towels”
“That was a turning point and when I decided to help young people in the community,” said Monatisi, crediting the GroundUp article for giving him a final push. “My campaign is not big, it’s local – grassroots – and is slowly progressing.”
The campaign now relies on 100 volunteers. Monatisi admitted that without the support of big corporations, the distribution is slow but he has not become discouraged.
“People either contact us for assistance and we also go door-to-door in disadvantaged areas to give back to the community,” he said. “So far, we have distributed 150 sanitary towels to these two communities.”
“What we want to do is to ensure and encourage learners to go to school because time wasted never returns,” he added. “School attendance is very important, young girls must not stay at home because they don’t have pads, we want them comfortable at school.”
According to the NYDA, young women in Africa can be absent from school at least four days per month because of their period. This can total up to about 24 weeks out of 144 weeks in a four-year period of high school. In some instances, these young women suffer from stress and depression as a result of fear of staining their clothes, according to the NYDA.
An edited version of this article was also published on IOL.co.za