South Africa Period Poverty: ‘I Don’t Want Anyone To Use Rags Sanitary Pads’

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Tamara Magwashu was bullied at school as her family was not rich enough to afford sanitary pads.

Now 27, she grew up in a poor township in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province and watched her single mother use old rags during menstruation.

Tamara would take at least a week off school while she was on her period, and had to learn how to fold and use the rags, which were very uncomfortable.

That scarring experience has motivated her as an adult.

“I made a choice deep within me that I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I did,” she said.

“So I had the idea to create my own company, to eradicate period poverty.”

She now delivers sanitary pads to hundreds of schools in the Eastern Cape.

‘Grew up in a shack’
Her work has been recognised by her community and she was nominated for this year’s Forbes magazine 30 under 30 list, which showcases young campaigners and entrepreneurs from around the world.

Describing her upbringing in the township of Duncan Village in the city of East London, Tamara says she has lived her entire life “in a shack – never had any windows, never had any piped water”.

She decided to get part-time jobs after school to try and make ends meet for her family – and to help when she was on her period.

“I started to work whenever I could around my studies so that I could buy sanitary pads because for me those rags were very uncomfortable.”

Tamara also says that as a teenager she found it very difficult to understand why she was getting period pains, because there was very little education about menstruation.

She was not alone in this struggle.

Anti-poverty NGO The Borgen Project estimates that seven million South African girls cannot afford to buy sanitary products.

Across the globe, the World Bank says that at least 500 million women and girls lack access to the facilities they need during their periods.

UN Women reckons that 1.25 billion women and girls worldwide have no safe, private toilet to go to.

And that is the case for Tamara and her family. They share a public toilet with around 50 others in her township.

Despite South Africa being one of the wealthiest countries on the continent, the young businesswoman thinks it only really “shines from the outside”.

When she went to university in Johannesburg to study public relations, Tamara managed to start saving some money from her student loan as well as income from her part-time jobs in order to start her own business, with a view to changing things for women and girls in her community.

She had to be self-sufficient as she had tried to get a business loan but no-one would take a risk on her as she did not have any assets to her name.

She eventually launched the business in 2021 with the aim of selling period products at an affordable price for disadvantaged women.

She called it Azosule, which means “to wipe away every tear from their eyes” in South Africa’s Xhosa language.

It also has a charitable arm, using a portion of its profits. Tamara created the “She needs you” campaign where she goes into schools in rural areas to deliver pads for free.

The Borgen Project estimates around 30% of girls do not attend school there while they are on their period because they do not have access to sanitary products.

BBC/Jide Johnson.

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