Fitness & Health

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“Minister of Menstruation”, Candice Chirwa on plans to help decrease period poverty

BY Nkosazana Ngwadla

Period poverty refers to the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management.

Through education and advocacy, we can greatly improve access to hygiene facilities and products, reduce stigma and shame, and encourage education about menstruation.

Periods are often associated with shame and stigma, as well as poor menstruation education. Around the world, children miss school while menstruating due to lack of access in addition to the cultural or social stigma that they may face.

26-year-old activist who has been dubbed the “minister of menstruation”, Candice Chirwa, has made it her life’s work to help end period poverty and help remove the societal stigmas that surround menstruation.

Candice began this unique journey with research for the United Nations in 2017 when she was just 21 years old. She was tasked with finding research on different countries’ policies regarding menstrual health.

Since then, she has made it her life’s mission to help raise awareness about people who menstruate, the struggles they go through, and how best to support them – these include having pad drives and educating young menstruators about their bodies, the importance of keeping track of their cycles, as well as encouraging companies to have period leave for employees.

Candice is on a mission to fiercely change the disempowering narrative around menstruation. Her media presence has been established since 2015 with a core interest in Youth Politics, Gender issues, and Human Rights. She has been featured on various notable media platforms, putting the spotlight on all these issues.

South Africa still has a long way to go in terms of providing menstrual education, but it’s people like Candice who will ignite the fire in others and accelerate the work.

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Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng’s Sentebale Sexual & Reproductive Health App is a game changer

BY Nkosazana Ngwadla

These days there’s an app for everything, and if used correctly, these apps can be very helpful. One of our favorite apps is one by medical doctor and author, Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Sentebale App.

Sentebale, meaning ‘forget me not’ in the Sesotho language, is considered a guide to stigma-free, evidence-based, and comprehensive information about sexual and reproductive health (SRH).
“The name emphasizes the importance of not forgetting about your sexual health as a part of achieving holistic wellness,” she writes on the app’s website.

Created by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng who is the OurEquity NPC, with technical expertise from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health and best-selling author, the app offers invaluable information on the anatomy and physiology; the reproductive health cycle; hormone therapy; infections, sexual pleasure, safer sex tools, pregnancy management, and outcomes, as well as distress and post-violence information.

“As it stands, queer, trans, and gender-diverse people adolescents, and cisgender women continue to experience. So, the content in this app has been structured to affirm, respect, and promote access to the information they need, whenever they need it,” the app reads.

One of our favorite things about this app on The Fuse is that it is available in English, Sesotho, and isiZulu. “Dr. T” as she is affectionately known, had always dreamed of ordinary people having access to information about sexual and reproductive health as it is a basic need and human right.

In June 2022, she launched the app, and just a few months later, it is being used by teachers and community health workers as well. The app is available on iOS and Android.

The state of abortion in South Africa

BY Nkosazana Ngwadla

Abortion has been legal in South Africa since November of 1996 and is regulated by the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 92 of 1996 (amended in 2008). Women of all ages can legally have an abortion in South Africa. A girl under the age of 18 is also allowed to have an abortion, with the consent of her legal guardian. A woman that is mentally ill and who is not compos mentis needs the consent of a guardian to legally terminate a pregnancy.

If a woman is less than 13 weeks pregnant, a pregnancy may be terminated without giving any reasons, if the woman is between 13 and 20 weeks pregnant, the pregnancy may only be terminated under specific conditions, such as social or economic threats.
After 20 weeks of pregnancy, termination will only be allowed if there are serious threats to the lives of the mother or baby, or if the foetus has birth defects.

Although these laws have been put in place to protect women and allow them the right to choose what happens with their bodies, unfortunately, some women still have to jump through hoops to safely terminate pregnancies.

On 3 October 2022, the mother of a baby girl found dumped in the bush near Oaklands Drive in Dawncrest, KwaZulu-Natal claims she had contacted social workers twice before resorting to dumping the infant.

According to Reaction Unit South Africa (RUSA), the baby was found with a bag containing nappies, a bottle of milk and a pacifier by a man who was picking mangoes.
The baby, who is approximately three months old, was also found with a note from the mother. In the short letter, the mother pleaded with whoever found her baby to not judge her but rather help the infant.

“You might be wondering why I dumped my baby, don’t wonder just help her if you can or call authorities but don’t judge me. I have spoken twice with social workers they delayed assisting, I know this bad, but I had no option the system is fragile, and we can’t even abort safely anymore, hospitals have strict rules,” the mother wrote.

*Samantha from Limpopo

*Samantha from Limpopo struggled to have a safe abortion in 2018. “I was a student at the University of Johannesburg and wasn’t ready to have a child. I was in my early twenties and in a relationship with a man who blatantly told me he wouldn’t be in the child’s life if I decided to keep it,” she tells The Fuse.

A few weeks in the pregnancy, *Samantha made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. “I started at the clinic on campus to just find out more information about where to go, if there were any costs involved and all that. But when I went to various clinics and hospitals, even social workers – I was never helped,” she adds.

Panicking because the weeks went by quickly, *Samantha resulted in having an illegal abortion. “I couldn’t risk having this baby; they were not going to have a good quality life. I don’t come from a wealthy family, it just wouldn’t have worked. I did what I had to do.”
*Samantha describes the experience as very traumatic and something she wishes no woman needed to face. “I know we’re told the laws are there to make things easier for women, but that’s not the reality,” *Samantha concludes.

*Thandi from Gauteng

“When I was 17, I was raped by my uncle at home. It was a very tough time for me, I didn’t understand what was happening and why it was happening. Luckily, I was sober minded enough to get a rape kit from the local clinic. I then spoke to my teacher at school because I was scared to speak to my mother about it – but I did eventually, with the help of my teacher.

My mother had some trouble believing me at first, but after some time, she did. A few weeks later, I found out that I was pregnant. I, for obvious reasons, didn’t want anything to do with that child. My mother understood and took me to Marie Stopes to get a safe abortion. I’m glad I got the support of my mother, because I know most young girls aren’t always so fortunate.”

Door of Hope

Door of Hope Children’s Mission is a home for abandoned children – it is based in Berea, Johannesburg, and aims to provide a home for each child.
“In 1999 the Berea Baptist Mission Church, under the leadership of Pastor Cherly Allen, made a hole in their wall and made a ‘Baby Box’, allowing for mothers to leave their babies any time, day or night, for the church to take care of them.

The moment the baby is places in the box, care workers on duty receive an electronic signal alerting them. The baby is taken in and the anonymity of the ‘donor’ is ensured. News quickly spread and now some babies are brought in personally by their mothers, and others by the police, hospitals, clinics, community members etc.,” says a Door of Hope representative.

Having an abortion might not be a viable option for every expecting woman, but the Door of Hope might just be an option for many.

Bontle Moabi on her journey with Endometriosis

There was nothing out of the ordinary during 28-year-old Bontle Moabi’s childhood in Johannesburg where she was raised by her parents along with her two brothers. While she enjoyed the privilege of family vacations abroad and going to some of the best Christian schools, she had always noticed that her menstrual cycle was not like the average teenager’s.


“For years I struggled with painful periods and issues related to my womb and my period. I had my first period when I was 11/12 years old and since then I’ve had numerous visits to the doctor,” Bontle tells The Fuse.


On some occasions, she would have her period for more than 30 consecutive days or have a sudden excessive flow of blood out of nowhere and would need to be rushed to the hospital. However, even with all the doctors’ visits, Bontle was never diagnosed with endometriosis, but she suspected it was because her mother had it, and she would watch her deal with how crippling it can be.


At 16, Bontle experienced a sharp pain that woke her up from a nap at school and was rushed to the hospital but still nothing. “I was told nothing was going on, the doctors couldn’t see anything, but I was in excruciating pain.”


Nearly ten years later, when she was 25 years old, Bontle was finally diagnosed with endometriosis




“My reason for seeing the doctor was because, for about five or six weeks, I was in a lot of pain and I think my health was just in a bad state altogether, I couldn’t fully function, so after a visit to the gynae, I got my endometriosis diagnosis, and I can’t even explain to you, my relief. I wasn’t crazy, and it wasn’t all in my head like I had been told before,” Bontle recalls.


The most accurate way to get an endometriosis diagnosis is through laparoscopy, but it can be done through transvaginal ultrasound and that is what Bontle did, “but it was also based on symptoms, family, and medical history. I just remember being in the doctors’ rooms feeling a sense of relief.


“It was also bittersweet because of my mother’s own journey with it, the multiple surgeries, a full hysterectomy, it was a lot but at least I knew how to deal with what was going on with me and it validated the struggles I faced daily,” she adds.


Unfortunately, a year later, she was diagnosed with fibroids and had surgery to remove them. According to her results, Bontle is officially fibroid free and there is no presence of endometriosis, “but sadly I am dealing with infertility and pain every single day,” she says.


Daily struggles


Some of Bontle’s daily struggles include pain in her leg, in her back, and knees, abdominal pain, before her period, after her period and during her period. She struggles to get a full night’s rest because of pain, and sometimes can’t make it to lectures.


“I can’t wear certain clothes because of the bloating, it gets quite serious, for most parts of my day and life, I must be careful with what I eat and drink and how much I stress because these coils all trigger the pain. I’m always on stand-by with a pad because literally at any moment I could just start my period, so it’s this constant anxiety. All of this impacts my mental health, I’m almost grieving who I used to be before the chronic pain,” Bontle tells us.


“I miss out on a lot because of my physical and mental state because of all the pain and struggles with endometriosis but what makes it harder is that for the most part, I won’t look like I’m in pain, so it makes it difficult for people to believe me. I also struggle with this constant fatigue and so it can make it very hard to be productive sometimes,” she adds.


Writing her way into healing


In 2020 after getting her diagnosis, Bontle decided to intentionally focus on her healing. She chose to go the homoeopathic route, and this has helped. She also takes pain medication daily but because of the harm it can cause when used frequently, she sometimes sits through the pain.


“But more than anything, I stay kind to myself you know? And I make sure to rest as much as possible. Now and then I allow myself to have that piece of cake, or I get those chicken wings, without guilt,” she smiles.


Bontle found comfort in writing poetry about her experiences, including heartbreak and being a rape survivor. She’s written two poetry books: the first titled Church and the second, Memories of His Bathroom Floor.



Church was inspired by the devastation I experienced after a heartbreak that I just couldn’t get over; I describe it as a journey of a love experience expressed as a single poem spread across an entire book.


“The church is used as an analogy to symbolise a deeply devoted love, portrayed as a worship experience. I made ‘him’ my church, my god, and lost me in the process, so Church is basically my expression of that pain and loss and how I found my way back.”


Memories of His bathroom Floor


“I describe Memories of His Bathroom Floor as a written illustration of a heart-breaking sequence of events that are expressed as poetry. Every tear shed on this bathroom floor has been accounted for by these words. It is a survivor’s recollection of memories of a vile and heinous crime. It is a nightmare that turned into reality and the struggle to heal and forgive.


“This is a well-thought-out description of my book, but to put it bluntly, this is my story about sexual assault and being a rape survivor. I use one of the violations to express and describe basically how I feel about the others.

“I kept it short because, the act, the violence only took minutes to change my entire life, so I felt that with the length of this book and how raw I wanted to be with it, would portray the same message that, it only takes seconds to change everything.”


When she wrote these anthologies, it was for her healing first. Bontle felt a need to release the pain from her spirit, mind, and body, with the hope that it would help the next person do the same.


“In my journey of healing, one of the biggest things to help me get through it is the support, so if more people would believe those that say they are struggling and try to support them, it makes the journey a little easier instead of being gaslit and told that it’s all in their head, which sometimes comes from medical professionals too,” Bontle says in conclusion.


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