Project Revolutionize works to end period poverty on campuses

The Wits student forum hosted the second part of the Project Revolutionize campaign which aims at tackling the lack of sanitary products and menstrual hygiene education within the university. 

In a two-day activation campaign, which took place at Wits’ Ampitheatre and education campus — Project Revolutionize empowered students with knowledge and tools to help them manage their menstrual flow.   

Project Revolutionize was formed by the Wits Business School student council to work towards eliminating period poverty at the institution; it has since been joined by different faculties within the institution. 

Day one of the activation was themed “Painting the campus red.”  The day consisted of engagements between the hosts of the event and the students, where they taught about feminine hygiene. Later, a pad drive was conducted where students were asked to donate if they had the means to. 

The campaign collaborated with the Mina Foundation – an organisation also working towards alleviating period poverty. The foundation assisted by handing out menstrual cups to students, while informing them how they worked. They managed to give close to 200 menstrual cups to students. 

Angel Shongwe the junior facilitator of the Mina Foundation demonstrating how to use menstrual cups. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho

“Ending period poverty is one thing we are keen to do; and currently we are doing that very well, we have [since] given out about one thousand cups here at Wits and today we are giving out more”, said Angela Shongwe, a junior facilitator of the Mina Foundation. 

The second day of the activation was called “A REDvolutionary night” – and it only consisted of a panel discussion. The keynote speaker was former Witsie and one of the leaders of the 2015 Fees Must Fall movement, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa. She is currently the chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation for the ANC in parliament. She said that pad drives should be paired with something like a developmental programme that equips the needy with skills. 

“I find it very cringey when people go to an area to donate a box of pads that’s going to last the people a month at most, not to say it’s not appreciated but those people need so much more than pads,” explained Mkhatshwa.  

Meanwhile, Tshifhiwa Manyage, the co-founder of Project Revolutionize, invited the attendees to share their experiences of what it was like when they first had their periods.  

“[When I got my period] I asked one of my teachers to get a pad and luckily she had one, but when I got home and explained what happened I was[not met with] conversations about what happens, that you going to experience period pains…Instead my mom said ‘I take you to school to get an education and this is partly what I’m expecting them to teach you’”, said Siyamthanda Mashicila, a Wits Honours in Arts theatre and performance student, sharing her experience.  

In her closing remarks Mkhatshwa advised the students who are in councils to go to the Gender Equity Office and advocate for menstrual leave; saying that its unfair for women to have to show up when they are going through a tough time because of their periods. “Other countries have it and if they can do it, we can also do it”, she added.  

A Witsie donating pads to Project Revolutionize.Photo:Aphelele Mbokotho

Yolisa Sphambo, co-founder of Project Revolutionize and the Transformation Officer of the Wits Business School student council reflected on the activation and said: “People know what Project Revolutionize is and that is what makes me happy because if they know about it then they are going to start talking about it”. She said this will help break away from the shame about periods and work towards combating institutional period poverty. 

On the last day of the campaign, Manyage told Wits Vuvuzela that although the outcome did not meet their expectations as they were hoping for a full house, Project Revolutionize had achieved its intended outcome for the day, “I’m grateful that at least we got a lot of engagement and a lot of discourse going”. 

The evening was wrapped up and the audience was given an opportunity to have one on ones with speakers if they wished to and were offered refreshments.  

FEATURE IMAGE: Yolisa Sphambo the co-founder of the project at day one of the activation.Photo:Aphelele Mbokotho

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A step closer to ending period poverty

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) has finally delivered on their promise of introducing free sanitary pad dispensers on campus. 

If you headed to the unisex bathroom across the student enrolment centre at Solomon Mahlangu House sometime during the past week, a new addition to the bathroom’s wall might have caught your attention.  

The blue and white sanitary pad dispensers are part of the SRC’s #EndPeriodPoverty campaign and were installed on Friday, July 21.  Period poverty is the term used to describe the lack of adequate access to menstrual health products.  

SRC Compliance officer, Karabo Matloga (20) told Wits Vuvuzela that they are not replacing access to condoms, nor do the pads use the same type of dispensers as the condoms do.  

According to a member of the Compliance officer’s subcommittee, Blessing Olu (22), “[the SRC] managed to get the university to install [separate and unique] pad dispensers,” and the ones for the pads are bigger. 

An empty pad dispenser after the allocated pads have run out a few days after being stocked, is a clear indicator of the need on campus.
Photo: Otsile Swaratlhe

Unlike other pad drives and initiatives, this one has no administration process for accessing the pads and it hopes to promote dignity, health and well-being for all students in need. 

As reported by Wits Vuvuzela, “[This initiative] was launched last year under the then Deputy President, Lesego Louw. [The current SRC] just had to sort out the logistics and making sure that there is enough supply for the rest of the year,” Matloga said.  

Sponsorships from the Motsepe Foundation, African Fashion and Education School Council, will keep the dispensers stocked for the foreseeable future.  

Matloga emphasised that every SRC cohort that assumes office in future, will take on the responsibility of keeping the initiative running. “We are activists at the end of the day. We understand that we are piloting a project that [has the potential] to spread all over South Africa,” he said. 

An honours student in International Relations at Wits, Jamie Naidoo (21) said, “[This initiative] is great because pads are expensive, and people do not have them all the time. This is a need compared to condoms which one always has a choice to have or not have [safe sex].” 

The installation of the dispensers is currently still during its first phase and only a total of five dispensers have been installed, namely at: Solomon Mahlangu house, the Matrix, Chamber of mines building, FNB building and an unspecified building at Education campus. 

FEATURED IMAGE: A student collecting their free sanitary pad at one of the newly installed pad dispenser on the main campus of Wits. Photo: Supplied/@Wits_SRC

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Tackling period poverty one dispenser at a time

The Wits School of Business Sciences Students Council are making plans to install free pad dispensers throughout the University. 

Feminine hygiene and access to sanitary products were the topic of conversation, as members of Project Revolutionize engaged strangers in an awareness drive on May 8, 2023.  

Period Poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual products, and this is what the project is aiming to eradicate by installing free pad dispensers across campuses.  

Transformation officer of Project Revolutionize, Yolisa Sphambo said that they identified the need for the project while in a bathroom. She said “where are the pads” had been scribbled next to a free condom dispenser. 

 Sphambo said that Project revolutionize is different to similar past projects as they are focusing on sustainability and making the provision of pads a norm. 

She said their project was aiming to revolutionize a women’s whole period, “Revolutionary [to us] means to feel comfortable to be soft within your period cycle”. 

A business sciences student, Babongile Tshabalala said that “I think it is something we truly need within the Wits society, because pads are more of a need than a want compared to the condoms that are readily available in the bathrooms.” 

Sarah Eram, the chairperson of the project said to Wits Vuvuzela, “The quality of pads students use is important as using unsafe menstrual products can lead to health issues and these are some things students don’t know.”  

“We have started speaking with people that are going to install the dispensers, we have found some people who are going to fund pads for the dispensers and some of lectures have committed themselves to donating” said Sphambo. 

Melissa Zulu, senior lecturer of marketing told Wits Vuvuzela “I decided to support this project because… girls and women should be able to go through it with respect and dignity.” 

This is a three-part launch, and the awareness week is the first step, the next steps involve having a workshop around the education of feminine hygiene and the installation of the dispensers. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Babongile Tshabalala shares her opinion on the importance of free pads. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho

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