Do you know how much a packet of pads costs? Did you know that sanitary pads come in all shapes, sizes and prices? Did you know that 30% of young girls in South Africa miss school because they cannot afford sanitary products? Did you know some girls are forced to pay up to R1 for a single sanitary pad by their school if they need one? We thought we knew all this, but if we’re being honest, we really had no idea.

In June 2020, as a group of four friends, we were asked, on very short notice, to collect sanitary pads to distribute on Youth Day to Site B, Khayelitsha. Within a week we were inundated with donations. On June 16, we handed out the thousands of pads we’d collected.

After distributing pads to over 600 women, it quickly became apparent that this would not be our last trip to Khayelitsha. From the interactions we had, the conversations with the community, and the sad reality of period poverty that we had just learnt about… Mama Flo was born.

While we thought we were responding to a specific Covid-19 emergency request for sanitary products, it soon became clear that this is a far-reaching global issue that contributes to gender inequality.

We both grew up in households where tzedakah and giving back were important, and we were both actively involved in outreach work whilst at school. However, before this pandora box of period poverty presented itself to us, we’d be lying if we said we were well informed.

We now knew this was something we needed to explore further. Most importantly, it was something we needed to help fix.

The brainstorming started immediately. We put our feelers out, spoke and listened to the wisdom of the incredible women and girls of the Site B community who have since become good friends, advocates, resources, and partners in this drive. We began researching a way forward to find sustainable solutions.

It has been over a year since Mama Flo was born… so what have we done.

We’ve handed out hundreds of thousands of single-use sanitary pads to the ladies of Site B.  We’ve hosted three incredibly successful workshops to explore and discuss menstrual health and hygiene, re-usable sanitary options, and female empowerment.

We’ve recognised the invaluable voice and input of the community – and have launched the Mama Flo Ambassador Programme comprising girls from schools around Cape Town who have stepped forward to be advocates, leaders and partners at their respective schools and communities.

“Empowered Women Empower Women”.  This is the sentiment that continues to underpin our mission. We strive to ensure each and every single girl in our community has a voice, that her voice is heard and that we can do everything within our available means to assist her in using her voice to empower herself and the women around her.

As a team of four young, independent women – we know how important this fight is. It is so much more than just providing sanitary pads to those in need. It is fighting to eradicate the stigma attached to it. It is about empowering women to educate the boys and men in their lives about it. It is about getting rid of the period taboo that shames women, leaving them socially and economically vulnerable.

So how can you help!

It’s quite simple – start this Women’s Day.

Have the hard conversations; take note of the price of sanitary products next time you go to the shops; buy an extra packet to donate; challenge your brothers, dads, cousins, friends when they make ‘period jokes’. This is the smallest way that can make the biggest impact.

We’re challenging the stigma on a daily basis. We’re committed to fighting this fight and your assistance helps us do just that. If you want to get involved and keep up to date with what we’re doing  – give us a follow on Facebook and Instagram @mamaflosa

Melissa Zackon and Laurie Shone are co-founders of Mama Flo and Network Members of  ‘Mensch’.