Mihlali Ndamase doesn’t do a lot of interviews, so a rare opportunity to speak to the super-influencer is nothing to be scoffed at. For someone to get to interview her on two separate occasions in one year is even more of a privilege and my eyes lit up once our Women’s Day Cover feature was confirmed.
The last time I spoke to Mihlali was for a food-based interview. This time around the topic couldn’t have been a further departure from the previous conversation; but it couldn’t be more necessary, either. This week, as we observed Women’s Day in South Africa, we sat down with Mihlali to talk about periods. Yup, we’re going there.
The period discussion is a multi-layered one in the context of South Africa. Over decades, the topic of girls menstruation has been one that is spoken of in hushed tones and secret circles. Periods are a taboo topic in many African cultures, and in a country where more than half of the population is female, it’s bemusing that a topic that affects so many people is still a difficult one to broach.
Today, thousands of girls are unable to stay in school due to inadequate menstrual resources. Sanitary supplies are not easily accessible for many students across South Africa, and along with the pain that comes from period cramps, these factors can result in girls missing days, even weeks out of the school calendar every year.
In a bid to finally change the narrative and tackle the stigma head-on, Mihlali Ndamase has partnered up with Best 4™ Healthcare – a company that has just launched a revolutionary remedy for alleviating period pains that has the potential to change the lives of women and girls across the country.
The new product was unveiled at a virtual launch event where Mihlali and the presenter Thembisa Mdoda were both in attendance as Best 4™ sought to make history with an event like no other. Shortly afterwards we had the opportunity to speak to Mihlali about her involvement in this much-needed campaign.
The Period Revolution: With Mihlali Ndamase
Moziak Magazine: Happy Women’s Month to you Mihlali and all of your female followers. How would you sum up the mood this Women’s Month in a few words?
Mihlali Ndamase: Honestly, it’s been a weird few months due to this pandemic but it has been a somewhat sombre month. There isn’t really much to celebrate considering the current climate in this country around how women are treated, GBV on the constant rise in South Africa.
MM: How did you observe Women’s Day 2020?
MN: Women are speaking out and changing the ‘strong woman narrative’ that has been embedded in us for years. Like I previously mentioned, there wasn’t really much to celebrate because of how women and children are being killed daily.
MM: We’re excited to see you at the launch of Best 4™ ’s campaign promoting their new Period Cramps Relief product. What are some of the reasons why women don’t (always) feel comfortable opening up about period pains in society?
MN: I think it is because periods as a whole, aren’t spoken about openly because they make people in society feel uncomfortable, thus they’re treated as though they’re some kind of taboo experience. Also for most women growing up, they were taught to treat their periods like a secret, thus as they grow older speaking out loud is not the norm. In addition as women we’re constantly told that we are over exaggerating our pain by a gender that has no idea what we go through every month, worse when the same sentiment is shared by other women who simply don’t experience extreme period pains. So I think these are great contributors to women not being open about their period pains.
MM: In fact, women and girls face a lot of stigma when it comes to menstrual cycles, and this shouldn’t be the case. What are some of the problematic attitudes we need to change when it comes to girls and periods?
MN: First and foremost can we accept the fact that it is natural, we did not choose this. That there is no set time when periods start and that just because some girls get them at a younger age it does not mean they are sexually active. Another big one, is treating girls like they’re “dirty” when they’re on their period. Policing young girls for what they choose to use between tampons and pads, the reality is some peoples skin reacts to pads thus they need to use tampons, saying girls aren’t virgins for using tampons is wrong.
MM: In some countries, female professionals are encouraged and allowed to take menstrual leave. Do you think SA workplaces need to make similar considerations?
MN: Yes! Yes! Yes! In fact I think South Africa is very backwards for still not having menstural leave. I don’t think it is fair for women who have unbearable period pains to be forced to take leave from their annual leave. If considerations for male paternity leave can be made, then the same attitude should be taken for menstural leave.
MM: SA has a long way to go before we make the country feel like “home” for our women. You once commented that you feel a lot safer in other countries than you would walking in SA. What should our leaders be doing to change that?
MN: We all know what our leaders need to do, our leaders themselves know what they need to do. Focusing on the illicit sales of alcohol has never saved anyone’s life. A lot of dismantling needs to take place, starting from the very top, creating structures that actually serve women and children.
MM: Although we love your thoughts and perspectives, sometimes it feels like social media puts pressure on you to make a comment about key issues. Where do you draw the line between influencer and advocate?
MN: At the end of the day I am a person, there are things that are near and dear to me thus I will advocate for things I believe in. I’ll never allow myself to be bullied and controlled by brands or the public, I am who I am and that is that.
MM: Lastly, if we were to speak again next year during Women’s Month, what progress would you like for us to have made as a country?
MN: To see the GBV stats decrease and to see more serious action being taken against GBV and its perpetrators.