Ballito mother of two Lesego Mpyana is a dynamic, brave and inspiring woman who has launched her very own army. Her mission? To go to war and against and eradicate period poverty in South Africa.
If you’ve never heard the term ‘period poverty’ before then it’s time you did. Put simply, it is a lack of access to sanitary products and hygiene facilities that stops young girls from going to school or work every day. And it is a very real problem in South Africa.
It was while she was a young marketing and communications student at the University of Johannesburg that Lesego first came face-to-face with this very real crisis in South African schools.
As a result, she and her husband Joseph started Move Africa which aims to equip young women with reusable menstrual cups that can be kept for up to 10 years. Move Africa currently supplies these products to corporates looking to invest in communities through their Corporate Social Investment (CSI).
“While I was studying, I joined an NGO called Teach SA, where the goal is to action something that will make a difference in an under-resourced or struggling school. You are placed according to your degree and I ended up as an English teacher at a school in Soshanguve near Pretoria.”
During her year there, Lesego taught pupils in Grade 10, 11 and 12 and says she started to realise that some of the girls were regularly staying home for a number of days. “I built up the courage to ask one of the girls why she was absent so often and she told me it was because she couldn’t afford sanitary products. My heart just broke. I had no idea the concept of period poverty even existed until then.”
Although she tried to help where she could, often buying products for the girls with her own money, Lesego says it was inconsistent and unsustainable and she knew more needed to be done.
Fast forward a few years, after spending a bit of time working in marketing industry and meeting Joseph, the couple moved to Ballito in 2017. Lesego joined Work4aLiving, an NGO that empowers unemployed South Africans by upskilling and equipping them to join the work force and Joseph got a job with a business development company.
When he was promoted to CSI manager, he started researching socio-economic challenges in South Africa and came across the term ‘period poverty’. “I immediately said to him that I knew what this was and I had seen it play out first hand while I was teaching. The research told us that huge amounts of money was being spent on getting pads for girls, but we both agreed that something more sustainable and impactful could be done.”
When she tried the menstrual cup for the first time herself Lesego was blown away. “My immediate thought was, oh my goodness, every woman needs one of these!”
The only challenge with the menstrual cups, she says, is the lack of education around them. “It can be intimidating if you haven’t been told how to use it. We knew we needed to get these out, but also educate the girls about them at the same time.” And so Move Africa was born.
“With my background and teaching and Joseph’s CSI experience we decided to set about showing corporates that there was a sustainable alternative to this problem.” It wasn’t long before people started paying attention and wanting to get involved – especially women who use menstrual cups themselves.
Now, with the help of some local influencers, Lesego has launched the Red Movement SA campaign, which aims to help ordinary South Africans make a difference.
“Basically, we match every cup that is pledged. So if your company or community sponsors 150 cups, we will go out, educate and distribute 300 cups.” The campaign has already been a massive success, with more than 1000 cups being pledged in the first two weeks. “We are blown away by the support. Our goal is to distribute 20 000 cups in our first year and I’m sure we’ll reach it,” says Lesego.
“The Red Movement is basically a platform that we created as a way for people to show their support and be involved in our story. I have been so blessed to have the support and help of local women and influencers like Candice Langford, Tash Barnard and Caley Rosenberg. They were so quick to get on board, they breathed life into my ideas, opened my eyes and helped me elevate it to what it has become and shown me what it can be. It’s been amazing to shared my heart and vision with people, online, in Zoom meetings and in person. It’s basically women coming together from different backgrounds and rallying together a movement to help other women. I feel like I’m leading an army and each woman is bringing the best of herself to the cause.”
Made from FDA-approved medical grade silicone, the menstrual cups are less toxic on your body and save you up to 85% of what you spend on sanitary pads and tampons in your lifetime. They are also less harmful for the environment and can last between 8 and 10 years if properly looked after.
How can you get involved?
1. Pledge a cup for R100 (via Payfast on www.moveafricaco.com or zapper on Instagram @move_africa_co)
2. Spread the word and raise awareness. Tell people about period poverty and share Move Africa’s posts
3. Lead your own movement by selecting a school or organisation to support and rally your company or community to raise cups for them.
4. Join the Move Africa team for Red Lipstick Fridays for the month of August. Put on some red lipstick, take a selfie and tag Move Africa.
Text: Leah Shone | Photograph: Chris Allan Photo | Hair and Makeup: Volenti Laurentina