VC’s Distinguished Award Lecture for Community Engagement: The Siyahluma Project

By Anima McBrown

The Winners of the Rhodes Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Award for Community Engagement 2015, The Siyahluma Project Group, presented their lecture at Eden Grove Blue

on Tuesday 03 May 2016. This multi-disciplinary team comprises of Dr Sharli Anne Paphitis, Dr Lindsay Kelland, Professor Catriona Macleod and Mr Ryan du Toit.

The project title is Addressing the Challenges Associated with Menstruation in South Africa and siyahluma means ‘we are growing’. As a “multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder project that aims to make sense of and address the various menstruation-related challenges facing women in South Africa”, the team sought to tackle the lack of  (i) access to reliable and hygienic menstrual products for managing menstruation, and (ii) information needed to understand the process of menstruation.

With a focus on the Eastern Cape in particular, findings revealed that there is a gap in knowledge for young girls who do not know how to manage menstruation.  Pervading myths and a taboo-culture exist around menstruating bodies. The treatment of girls at schools is problematic, where they become silenced about their experiences, difficulties and challenges. As expressed by the team the “lack of access to information, or in many cases, the provision of false, misleading or stigmatised information about menstruation has a severe and negative impact on the management of menstruation for both young girls and women globally, and particularly in the South African context”.

On presentation night Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela and DVC Dr Chrissie Boughey opened proceedings by sharing the pioneering of important local community engagement work, such as this tremendous project. It is paving the way by implementing actual change in the lives of the province’s young people. Dr Mabizela lauded the project and its members for living up to his personal motto; they fulfil the role of “brightening the corner where you are”. The team members shared details about their interdisciplinary research, critical health education interventions, and the sustainable community-based social enterprise that produces reusable sanitary kits. These kits are locally produced and distributed free of charge (or at minimal cost) to those young girls in schools around the Eastern Cape who need and want them.

One would think that subjects like Life Orientation (LO) fill the gap and provide the knowledge that is needed. Yet girls still feel alienated because of the changing physiological and biological functions in an extremely uncomfortable environment.

In totality the project aims to “alleviate the menstruation-related challenges facing girls and women in our community”. The audience was very impressed and expressed appreciation for the clear educational interventions that form part of the Siyahluma initiative. Another highlight of the collaborative work that has been achieved is the success of the partnerships that have been formed over the three years that the project has been running. After presenting and describing their work, the team then demonstrated what each reusable sanitary kit contains and how it works.

Through the Assumption Development Centre and the Days for Girls Program (with support and sponsorship from Families South Africa – FAMSA), women from the community were trained in sewing and business skills. This has led to the establishment of a sustainable local sewing business that will continue to produce and distribute the project’s reusable sanitary kits.

Siyahluma also teamed up with the talented grade 12 learners from the Victoria Girl’s High School drama class, to establish the Siya-Mensa production: a community theatre project that is staged to teach learners from primary and high school about menstruation.

Ms Hornby closed proceedings and invited guests to enjoy drinks and snacks in the Eden Grove foyer. A marvellous event and one most inspiring project indeed: the Rhodes University community congratulates The Siyahluma Project Group for their deserved award. We wish them all the best in their continuing work.

Some interesting facts and figures from the project’s research, analysis and findings:

  • 43% of the students who participated in the study revealed that menstrual products are too expensive to purchase. Hence the alternative use of cloth and toilet paper for those not able to afford pads and tampons.
  • 22.4% of the girls reported absent from school when menstruating. This is also reflected in the 18 days (on average) that are missed each year by girls who struggle to make it to school when menstruating. Reasons include: debilitating menstrual pains, shame, guilt and embarrassment over being teased about their condition, lack of access to menstrual products to use while at school and unsanitary conditions of some school bathrooms.
  • Restricted participation by menstruating girls reaches 39.2% for classroom activities and a staggering 47.8% for sporting activities.
  • 83.2% of the girls approached their mothers for support when they first started menstruating, a finding which further prioritises the role of women in creating safe spaces for young women to learn about their changing bodies through adolescence and their teenage years.



Source:  Communications & Marketing

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