Candice Chirwa is a gender activist, commentator and thought leader with an avid interest in gender and youth issues in South Africa.
Candice educates the youth on Menstrual Education through her NGO, QRATE. Candice is also an author, having written a book entitled Perils of Patriarchy. She has also conducted a TEDxTalk by the name of Bad Blood, which focuses on the importance of Menstrual Education.
You can join us in a live conversation with Candice on July 8th, 2020.
Tell us a little about QRATE!
QRATE is an NGO focused on creating critical thinking content for the youth. We also do menstruation workshops. The purpose of these workshops is to allow young people to engage on social issues that are not really spoken about, to have control of the content and feel edu-lifted. By this I mean a cohesion of education and upliftment. We truly believe that education empowers the youth, but by feeling uplifted they can also make responsible choices in the future.
Menstrual health education isn’t commonplace. What has it been like to try to improve menstrual health education?
Running QRATE has been such an interesting journey because our aim has been to allow young people to harness their full capabilities of critical thinking. What we do is try to implant that seed of critical thinking. The facilitators that conduct these menstruation workshops never impose their own subjective views. They simply provide the facts and dismantle menstruation myths and stigmas, allowing participants to really own the content for themselves.
If a participant makes a statement, the facilitator’s role is to question why they think that way. The participants can then understand that some of what they were taught is fiction, and then they can learn the facts. The nice thing about our menstruation workshops is that we can have a cohesion of education and upliftment, but also that the participants can have fun in these workshops. They can laugh at all these ridiculous things they hear or been told that have limited their behaviour while on their period.
Towards the end of our workshops, we allow for the participants to make a “period pledge”. What this does is allow for the participants to create a strong bond of friendship so that in the event that a girl has her period, she doesn’t feel scared to ask another girl who attended the workshop for a pad, or for assistance. It’s been a really empowering journey to see the impact we’ve had on the ground and to allow young people to own the content and be confident about their bodies. And most importantly, to unpack their potential and understand what autonomy over their own bodies means.
Have you thought about this work in a context beyond South Africa?
Our workshops, before the lockdown, were primarily hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa. We were planning to start embarking on providing the menstruation workshops to South Africa as a whole. Unfortunately, the global pandemic happened so we couldn’t continue with our workshops due to restrictions imposed on social gatherings.
I think that there are a lot of cultural traditions that inhibit menstruators behaviour when they are menstruating. There are traditional laws that prohibit menstruators from leaving their house. Sometimes they need to stay in a menstrual hut for 2 to 10 days. If you actually research menstrual huts, they are actual human rights violations. They are not properly equipped with the right sanitation and they are simply not conducive for menstruators to manage their cycle.
There was a case in Nepal where a young girl died because she was trying to keep herself warm in a menstrual hut, so she started a fire and died of smoke inhalation. Ultimately these traditions affect a menstruator’s social and economic activities because sometimes they are required to stay at home, which means they can’t go to school or to work, which affects their ability to progress in society, which drives gender inequality.
When it comes to tackling menstrual health stigma on the continent, I am very happy to see organisations in Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Zambia, that actually have menstruation workshops going on, that offer menstrual health resources.
During my Masters, I researched two countries that are very progressive on the continent in terms of menstrual health management: Zimbabwe and Kenya. They have created policies that are in the process of being implemented into legislature to ensure the continuous supply of sanitary products for young girls, women, and menstruators.
Menstrual health education goes beyond providing textbooks. It is ensuring that teachers, guidance staff and guardians have the right sensitivity training and also the right sort of resources to help menstruators go about their daily lives.
How can young people access the kinds of resources you are describing? And how can we help others access them too?
I recently became the brand ambassador for Li-Lets South Africa. We are currently running a platform called #LiLetsTalk (https://community.lil-lets.com/) and it’s free to sign up. If any menstruator has any questions about their period, how to take care of themselves or about taboos, they are more than welcome to join up.
The best part is that when one asks a unique question, Li-Lets will donate a pack of pads to a menstruator in need.
There is also the opportunity for people to send me a DM personally. They can reach out to me either on Facebook or on Instagram and I will be sure to speak to them.
At QRATE we have had to put things on pause, but if anyone wants to ask us anything they are more than welcome to send a message to QRATE as well.