There has been increased recognition that sanitary dignity cannot be isolated from sanitation, women’s health and education – but that it does deserve urgent attention as an issue on its own.

Driving menstruation dignity intervention is an organisation called RUCDI – the Ravensmead, Uitsig, Cravenby, Development Initiative. Established in 2012, the organisation’s aim is to drive the development and strengthening of social capital the community and surrounding areas to strengthen social capital of the community, develop capacity, resources and/or campaigns that address those needs.

The sanitary towel drive was initiated in response to girls’ absenteeism rates due to lack of menstruation products.  The school is currently recruiting and campaigning for support.  

Following is an interview conducted with Erica to gain more insight.  

If you were in a position of power, how would you tackle sanitary dignity issues in South Africa?

I would like to be the National Minister of Education to promulgate a bill to make health services part of education, like having school nurses back in schools. Health should be a part of the education journey. Services and prevention services would be instituted to tackle issues at an early age, we need to start working with 8 – 14 year olds to educate them on menstrual health and sexual education so by the time they are 15 they have the support and are aware of care and prevention methods.

Also government has a bigger role to play in prioritising women. There is not enough conversations around the issue of menstruation, and affordability of sanitary wear. An increased dialogues about this is needed at a government level.

In your years of dealing with the sanitary dignity issue, what would be a solution to the problem we face in South Africa? Free sanitary wear? No tax? Donations? Washable sanitary pads like we see being offered? Menstrual cups? What changes would you like to see in government’s policy or support of the issue?

We need health and adolescent youth friendly services. Health services for women must be looked at holistically. Sexual health education to combat pregnancies, HIV, sexual reproductive as a health – sanitary care is part of that. At a global level, not enough is being done at tackling the issue holistically.

I would look at a product that can be used multiple times, for example the cup and washable pads. Look at the most cost effective, environmentally friendly options as well.

Why do you think that this issue has not received the attention it deserves?

It is time consuming and most of us who tackle this particular issue have full time jobs.

From a health perspective it is not seen as life threatening. There is no risk of loss of life. Condoms are freely distributed because it is part of the HIV prevention programme. Menstruation doesn’t get the attention because in a contraceptive campaign the focus is on not falling pregnant, not on menstrual health. But, we need to remember that shame and dignity is invisible and although not life threatening it is still damaging the self-esteem.

Have you formed any partnerships with other organisations?

Not for profit organisations that assist other schools with sanitary towels asks if Ravensmead is close to Khayelitsha. And they won’t get involved because Ravensmead is not a township area. It is an urban area, but it doesn’t mean that people are not living in poverty. There is a perception that in areas where coloured and white people live, there is no need to support the sanitary needs of women and girls.

What are your focus areas now can others get involved, or even get advice on how to start similar projects to what you and RUCDI do?

Firstly, our main focus is reviving the sanitary towel donation drive at Ravensmead High. Our target is to collect 2000 packets of sanitary towels between October – March next year. All donations can be delivered to Esmeralda Willems.  She is contactable on her mobile, number 076 427 7310 or via e-mail, smeraldawillems@gmail.com.  

If you would like to follow the progress of RUCDI’s campaign, can connect with the alumni association on Twitter, the handle is @ravypeople.