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HEALTH

“It’s Not Shameful To Have Periods,”

Zaakira Mahomed on fighting period poverty

BY Agnes Amondi

Oct 01, 2021, 07:46 AM

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“We are giving away free condoms everywhere but we aren’t giving free sanitary towels; when you can choose to have sex but you cannot choose to have a period,”

Words of the Co-Founder of Mina Foundation Zaakira Mahomed. The foundation is a South Africa based social enterprise on a mission to end period poverty in Africa. Mina is a menstrual cup that came to life in 2015 as part of Zaakira’s charge to eliminate period shame as well as improve the experience and lives of young girls and women. Part of the appeal is the fact that the cup is sustainable, eco-friendly, dependable, healthy and affordable compared to the sanitary products in the market. 

Data from ActionAid shows that one in ten girls in Africa miss out on school due to a lack of access to menstrual products. This is why the Mina menstrual cup is a very crucial and timely ally in the quest to deconstruct the taboo and normalise talk around menses. Some 70,000 young girls and women, mostly in Southern African nations- Mozambique, Zimbabwe - to date have benefited from the Mina Foundation. Zaakira told us more.
“This is a global issue. I discovered the menstrual cup six years ago and came to the realization that it is the solution. It’s the most sustainable, safe and hygienic way to manage a period. This is why I rallied support from the people I knew in order to get us going. We had to fight taboos surrounding virginity particularly when it comes to inserting foreign objects into the vaginal canal as well as encouraging parents to allow their girls to use menstrual cups,” 

“We believe that menstruation is a basic human right and people shouldn’t pay for these products. Girls should not miss out on school because of this or get sick and infections because of the absence of safe and healthy period products. We are providing a solution,"
"Mina is our menstrual cup made here in South Africa. We found the ones in the market quite intimidating. For a long time, we unknowingly used sanitary towels that have bleachers and chemicals. Mina is 100% silicon, eco-friendly and affordable. We are not saying that you have to use Mina menstrual cups. What we do is present all the options to the communities and teach them about all the products available to them so that they can make informed decisions that best suit their needs.”

Mina Menstrual Cup

Mina is a menstrual cup that's been humanised. Zaakira and her team do this in order to make the approach and experience for women more friendly as opposed to viewing it as a foreign product. Mina is an isiZulu word that means me.
“Mina is a she. She is a woman. She is one of us. We don’t talk about Mina as an “it”. She is a girl’s best friend. Mina is here to help which is why the reception has been so welcoming because girls can depend on Mina. What we are doing here is uplifting and helping one another,” Zaakira spelt out.  

Restoring Dignity

Mina is crisscrossing borders in a bid to “minarize” the continent. Her latest stop is Kenya where an estimated 50% of school-age girls lack access to menstrual products. The foundation has teamed up with a local organisation, Scandicare Kenya, to create a footprint of Mina in the country. Currently, they are running a pilot program in Kajiado North amongst girls with special needs. In the long run, they expect to expand their reach beyond this group.

“We are on a mission to “minarize” the world. Our hope is to take Mina around the continent and eventually globally. It’s the first time we are in Kenya but I always receive lots of emails from people who want us to come here. This is why we now have a partnership with Scandicare. It’s my job now to introduce all these people to one another and form a bigger group because we share the same vision,” Zaakira again.
As part of their visit, they are conducting training in communities. This program is grounded on edutainment and inclusivity. The conversation around periods has long been left to women. The need to have men onboard has become apparent and Mina is giving them a seat at the table.

“We include boys in our discussions. We make them understand that they shouldn’t ridicule girls when they are going through their periods. Instead, they should protect and respect them. With the girls, we provide a safe space for them to talk freely, something they didn’t have before. We do this through the combination of education and entertainment in which singing and dancing are very much part of the process to keep them engaged,”
“Sometimes when we delve deeper into the topic, we do it without the boys in the room. This is not because we don’t want them in but because the girls are still shy to ask questions. Later on, the girls become comfortable and we talk about periods openly which indicates that the girls have gained courage and confidence.” Zaakira noted.

Relatability

The Mina Foundation has young facilitators who conduct training in schools. Part of that entails introducing the girls to Mina. A lot more is done as they also engage them on anything and everything to do with menstruation. They want these girls who are just at the onset of puberty to have someone they can relate with, trust and openly talk to. Zanele Zimu is one of the facilitators.

“As a facilitator, alongside three others, we go to schools and train girls not just about the product but also hold conversations about menstruation, puberty, and alternative products. We make this as conversational as possible because we realized that the students also want to share their experiences as well as hear our own stories,”
With this, Mina is providing access to information which is usually a big gap for many young girls. More often than not, they are likely to receive misleading advice as some mothers shy away from talking to their daughters about periods. This makes their experience more difficult than it should be. Zanele fell victim to this even before she began menstruating. She shared.

“The first time I got my period, I cried because I didn’t want it and couldn’t tell my mum. I thought I was going to die. I was made to believe that my naughtiness was going to cause blood to come out from my vagina. That alone scared me and when I first got my period, I had a difficult time accepting it,”

“As soon, as I got more information, I stopped being embarrassed about getting my period. I realized that my period is not dirty, it’s just something that happens every single month and can allow me to have babies. This helped me build my confidence, love myself and body even more.” Zanele concluded. 

Talk! Talk! Talk!

On average, the Mina Foundation distributes up to 10,000 menstrual cups annually. By the end of this year, they are hoping to reach some 75,000 girls in South Africa. As a result of their partnership with Scandicare Kenya, the numbers are expected to shoot up by at least 3000. Be that as it may, Zaakira reiterated the need to continuously open up the conversation on Mina in order to widen their reach and end period poverty.
“Now that you know about Mina, you can’t stop talking about it. People don’t need to buy the product but they need to know what we are doing. This is our problem and we can fix it. When we help these girls, they become confident and get the courage to stand up for themselves and other girls,”

“We are also keen on educating the boys. It has to be done simultaneously with that of the girls so that the men of tomorrow will know how to teach girls and women. You got here because someone had a period. How can it not be your issue?” Zaakira’s final thoughts.