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#YoungTrailblazers: Candice Chirwa the Minister of Menstruation, South Africa’s first Minister to fulfil her duties

image cred: Candice Chirwa

By Wanique Block

In 2018 South Africa joined a handful of countries bidding farewell well to the shackles of tampon tax.  With this, a zero percent tax rate was applied on all sanitary and menstruation products.

Prior to this, all menstruation and sanitary products were taxed at 15% VAT.

Tampon tax refers to a system that enforces extremely high taxation rates on all menstruation products such as tampons, pad, panty-liners and menstruation cups. 

Although the implementation of a zero percent tax rate on menstruation products sounds good, it is far from realistic; not to mention, it remains a luxury that many can’t afford, especially when living in a country like South Africa where period poverty continues to exist. 

According to Bathabile Dlamini, South Africa’s Minister for Women, in South Africa about 7 million young girls don’t have access to or can’t afford to buy sanitary products, which as a result, has forced many to miss school.

Not only has this added to the long list of issues that we face as the youth of South Africa, but it has made me question the efforts of our government; What are our government officials and ministers doing about the issues of gender inequality and menstruation inequity? How do they plan on alleviating period poverty and bias as whole? Do they understand the severity of period poverty and its implications?

This observation has led me to believe that not only is there a lack of research when it comes to menstruation health and menstruation inequity, but our government officials and ministers just don’t seem to care, well… except one “Minister”.

If you’re wondering who? I’m actually referring to the Honorable Candice Chirwa, South Africa’s official unofficial “Minister of Menstruation”.

As we celebrate Youth Month by shining a light on the leaders of tomorrow, we at Kaya 959 spoke to Candice Chirwa about the phenomenal work she has done as a Menstruation Activist. 

Candice Chirwa is an author, an academic, a Ted Talk speaker, feminist and menstruation activist, who works tirelessly to redefine the narratives and stigmas that are often associated with period poverty and menstruation health.

In doing so Candice educates and empowers young people by hosting workshops and creating awareness about period positivity; and removing the fear and bias that comes with menstruation.

“For me, being the “Minister of Menstruation”, really speaks to creating a platform where young people can learn about a natural biological function that happens to more than the population in this world, including people who don’t menstruate but don’t identify as women and girls”, Candice shares.

Candice is passionate about her craft, not only is this is evident in the work she has done with her NPO QRate, but more so obvious in how she eagerly and excitedly talks about her journey as a menstruation activist. 

“[With Qrate] we go into spaces where sex, puberty and periods are not spoken about, and in turn we are educating young people in a fun and empowering way. We are changing the way comprehensive sexuality education should be taught by removing the fear and bias through the empowerment and edu-liftment of young people”, Candice tells Kaya 959.

Candice lets me know that at 21 years old, after having a very awkward relationship with her period for 11 years, she found menstruation activism to be extremely interesting and necessary. 

“From the age of 10 to 21, for 11 years I had an awkward relationship with my body and period. At 21-years-old I came across Menstrual activism, I was like ‘wow, this is really interesting’. I immediately knew that this was something we needed to have more conversations about, especially in the South African landscape, because we often don’t speak about Sex, Sexual Health and Reproductive Services. So how are we speaking about Menstruation”.

When asked about the end goal for the “Minister of Menstruation”, Candice expresses and places emphasis on menstruation leave for all menstruators. “The end goal would be to make menstrual leave a thing! In my lifetime, I really want to see menstruators who suffer from period pain conditions like PCOS, Endometriosis and heavy bleeding, be given the opportunity to take a few days off or even work from home with pay. This would highlight and recognize that our symptoms are taken seriously”.

She continues by also reiterating on education policies that need to be changed as well as expressing the need to make period products accessible in all public spaces and institutions.

In her quest to a period positive world, Candice wants the youth of South Africa to take care of themselves. 

“Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. I want young people to understand that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Your cup needs to be full!” 

Read Next: #YoungTrailblazers: Sista Ntswembu, the Bozza of Nails!

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