Mama Flo, making a real difference in the lives of young women

The Mama Flo team prepare to distribute the thousands of sanitary products that were donated to their cause.

We’re not ‘ovary’ reacting about period poverty — this Women’s Day, let’s start to do more!

By Melissa Zackon and Laurie Shone. Mensch thought-leaders of the month.

Do you know how much a packet of pads costs?

Sanitary pads come in all shapes, sizes and prices. Thirty percent of young girls in South Africa miss school because they cannot afford sanitary products. Some girls are forced by their school to pay up to R1 for a single sanitary pad.

We thought we knew all this, but we really had no idea.

In June 2020, our group of four friends was asked, on very short notice, to collect sanitary pads to distribute on Youth Day in 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.

We both grew up in households where tzedakah and giving back were important, and we were both actively involved in outreach work at school. However, before we encountered this pandora’s box of period poverty, we were not well informed.

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

We knew that we needed to explore this further. Most importantly, it was something we needed to help fix.
The brainstorming started immediately. We 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.

Mama Flo was born over a year ago… 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 voices and input of the community, and have launched the Mama Flo Ambassador Programme comprising girls from schools around Cape Town who have stepped up to be advocates, leaders and partners at their respective schools and communities.

Empowered Women Empower Women. This sentiment continues to underpin our mission. We strive to ensure that every single girl in our community has a voice, that her voice is heard and that we do everything within our 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 a fight 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 and 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, follow us on Facebook and Instagram @mamaflosa.

Melissa Zackon and Laurie Shone are co-founders of Mama Flo, and Network Members of Jewish Social Justice NGO, Mensch.

Mensch, contact:

• Published in the PDF edition of the September 2021 issue – Download here.

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