To mark International Day of the Girl on October 11, Karen Kallmann from Cape Town shares some insights into Mama Flo, one of the groups under the Union of Jewish Women of South Africa’s umbrella. The Mama Flo campaign was founded by a group of three friends and aims to find short and long-term sustainable solutions to period poverty.
The story behind Mama Flo from the desks of co-founders Melissa Zackon, Laurie Shone and Isabella Bisogno:
As young women, we understand first-hand the stress and taboo that comes with having a period. They panic about not having a sanitary pad when they needed one at school or work, and the discomfort of discussing periods among peers, family members, friends, and especially with boys. But our experiences pale in comparison to the lived reality of so many women, young and old, in South Africa (and across the world). However, we are acutely aware of how different our period experiences were and we were unaware of the challenges surrounding period products and the burden of period poverty when we were growing up. In our own lives, menstrual products were always accessible, and we never had to worry about their cost.
Mama Flo’s mission is simple. We aim to find short and long-term sustainable solutions to end Period Poverty. We do this by remaining committed to providing people who menstruate with access and agency to their period freedom, free period education, and free period products. It became clear early on that while distributing sanitary pads to those in need was essential, we understood that we needed to go beyond that to really ensure we could fight period poverty.
This led us to establish three pillars to guide our work:
Pad Handouts – Meeting Immediate Needs: Our journey began with distributing single-use sanitary pads to provide immediate relief to women facing period poverty. However, we soon realised that long-term change required addressing systemic issues and we needed to go beyond just providing a hand out… we needed to provide a hand up.
Education through Workshops – Encouraging Agency: The workshops have become a safe space for open discussions about menstruation, breaking the stigmas and taboos surrounding periods. In collaboration with local leaders, medical experts, and community members, we sought to empower women to make informed choices about menstrual health and hygiene. This ensures that no matter what we strive to ensure the women we are working with have agency over their bodies and their choices.
Ambassador and Mentorship Program – Voices for Change: Our team of 30 young ambassadors has been instrumental in guiding Mama Flo and ensuring that we address the community’s needs effectively. These inspiring young women have become champions of our cause, leading workshops and amplifying the message of menstrual health and empowerment. These remarkable young women are the eyes and ears in their respective communities, ensuring that the voices and needs of women are heard. They take charge of workshops, passionately sharing their knowledge and experiences to drive the message of menstrual health and hygiene further. Our ambassador program is a powerful example of how empowerment fosters change. By providing these young leaders with a platform to raise their voices, we are nurturing a generation that advocates for female empowerment and gender equality. Through their dedication and passion, we are reminded that young voices are a driving force for transformative social change.
Some of the highlights of 2023:
- Mama Flo Internship: This year the group launched the Mama Flo Internship programme: These interns were initially part of our Mama Flo ambassador program and after a detailed application process, these incredible young women were selected to take on more of a leadership role for a full-on four-month internship. During the four months, Audrey, Siwe, Emihle, and Zenande stepped up in their leadership roles and thanks to their help over 1300 girls received sanitary pads, had discussions about period poverty and menstrual health and hygiene education, and we were able to grow our bigger Mama Flo family.
- Intern-Hosted and Run Workshops: The interns hosted an Ambassador and Intern team-building and brainstorming day at the Urban Park in Century City, Cape Town. The interns hosted workshops and distributed single-use and reusable sanitary pads at several schools including Siphamandla High, Soyisile Primary School, Matthew Goniwe High, and Nyameko Primary School. Bi-weekly strategy and communication call with the Mama Flo Co-Founders. Assisted with Mama Flo’s TikTok account and provided reports for social media posts.
Mama Flo was also invited to two public events within the Khayelitsha area, Cape Town where they handed out single-use pads as well as reusable sanitary pads to members of the community. The Interns attended these on behalf of Mama Flo.
It is incredibly noteworthy that these workshops and events were led and arranged by our interns. The Mama Flo co-founders assisted with transportation and finances, but we allowed the interns to have autonomy over the rest of the program. At the events that Mama Flo was invited to attend, our Interns were our figureheads and continued to make us very proud. The Mama Flo co-founders are exceptionally proud of our interns but mostly we are ecstatic we have been able to use Mama Flo not only as a tool to solve period poverty but to springboard our girls into leadership positions.
The Mama Flo Team was invited to an event at the TAJ to participate in a Period Poverty event hosted by the Heritage Foundation. The Interns attended and participated on behalf of Mama Flo.
A success story from our internship: One of our interns saved up some of the money earned over the four-month internship to start her own business. This is so incredible for the team as it shows how what we are doing is not only fighting period poverty but truly empowering our women to uplift and upskill themselves. This is a humbling and extremely proud moment!
- 24-Hour Campaign to raise R24 000
To raise funds for Mama Flo to continue our work in Q1 of 2023 the team decided to run a 24-hour appeal to raise R24 000 in 24 hours. This was a quick attempt that was globally supported and at the end of the 24 hours, we were able to exceed our target and raise R26 742.00 in the 24 hours. We were as per usual blown over by the support, we constantly we receive, and the team is hard at work putting together our plans for future fundraising endeavours.
4. Human Rights Day Workshop
On 26 March 2023, we hosted our first large-scale workshop of 2023. We were lucky enough that Elia, a young student at Herzlia School in Cape Town, used her bat mitzvah as an opportunity to purchase reusable pads for Mama Flo to distribute at a workshop. Together with Elia, her mom, our Mama Flo ambassadors, and interns, we hosted a morning of education, learning, and encouragement as well as supplied young girls in attendance with Palesa reusable sanitary pads. Young girls came together to discuss various issues they currently face with their periods, how to alleviate the stigma, and how to stand taller and proud of being a woman. It was a hugely successful workshop.
Mama Flo has continued with all aspects of their work throughout the year, utilising our public holidays to focus on the issue of period poverty and bring relief and education to young women dealing with this very practical concern.
5. Massive August Women’s Day Drive: Supported by local female entrepreneurs, businesswomen, and businesses, we were inundated with sanitary pad donations, monetary donations, as well as Blonde Chaos (A local, beautiful jewelry company), made custom-made Mama Flo bracelets and pouches with all proceeds going toward Mama Flo!
Together with this, we continue to support constant cries for support and continue to provide sanitary products for those in need. It has been even better to be associated with the Union of Jewish Women, an organisation that is not only a pillar in our community but also a pillar of support for women from all walks of life.
As Mama Flo enters our third year, we hope to keep growing, reaching more communities, and creating a world where periods are normalized, and period products are readily, easily, and financially accessible to all. Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of women and girls, one period at a time.
We never imagined that Mama Flo would evolve into what it is today, driven by our shared passion to make a difference and empower women in their journey. We have no idea what the future holds but what we do know is the Mama Flo community will continue to evolve and grow and so will the desire and drive to fight period poverty.