We Are Kamhlaba Because They Were: On-Campus Advocacy for Menstrual Health

The premier edition of We Are Kamhlaba Because They Were features Kathrin Bürger, an IB1 student at Waterford Kamhlaba. She is from Austria and currently serves as head of Asinakekelane as well as one of two pastoral representatives.

Kathrin is an advocate for body positivity, reducing inequalities based on gender, ethnicities or minorities, ending gender-based violence, and building a more diverse, intersectional and inclusive community.

It is because of these interests that she notes “Asinakekelane is the perfect place for me to affect change on- and off-campus.”

Identifying a Need

Coming into Waterford, I realized that Austria is not the only country where there is a lot of stigma surrounding menstruation and that this is the case in Eswatini as well. I noticed that there is minimal attention being given to an important topic resulting in many of us being misinformed, leading to mistreatment. Menstruation accompanies so many of us through life and yet remains a taboo to talk about. It is negatively connoted and uncomfortable to talk about in most structures of society. Periods are blessings that bond different people. I was sure that those much-needed conversations had to start and that those stigmas had to be addressed.

Many people felt the same and, collaboratively, we hope that we can make the campus a safe space for all those who menstruate whilst also eliminating as much discomfort, fear and negativity associated with it as possible. To introduce this new initiative to our Asinakekelane members, we invited Tait Gamble as our guest speaker. Tait is the founder of the Canadian charity organisation “The Period Purse”, an organisation that strives to achieve menstrual equity by providing marginalized menstruators with access to free menstrual products while reducing the stigma surrounding periods through public education and advocacy. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to interview the leading activist Umra Omar who is the founder of “Safari Doctors” and UN “Person of the year 2017” in Kenya. This interview included discussions about her activism, health education and menstrual cups (a reusable hygiene product therefore a more sustainable alternative).

As Menstrual Head Initiative head, I moderated – together with Dr Selena Rathwell – a panel discussion with representatives of the United Nations of Eswatini regarding menstruation. The aim of this conversation was to break the stigma and to raise awareness on various topics such as period poverty, period shaming and education provided on this topic. Some of the questions addressed were: “How much education were you provided with about menstruation?” and “What do you think the most misunderstood part of menstruation is?” These questions were answered by the panellists: Nathalie Ndongo-She (Resident Coordinator UN Eswatini), Antoinette Manana (UN population fund), Kassandra Cowles and many more inspiring women. This panel discussion was open for all Waterford Kamhlaba students, teachers, staff and alumni in hope to reach as many people as possible.

Challenges and Opportunities

Some of the challenges have been that we could not engage directly with students and the overall community in a physical environment due to the online format. However, Asinakekelane´s members maintained motivation and engagement regardless of the hurdles provided by COVID-19. Despite all the difficulties, we continued to host well-attended virtual events, workshops and regular Friday meetings. The menstrual health initiative team wants to build momentum around periods by having more panels on menstruation, specifically “Health panels” by medical professionals on menstrual products and also discussions in the tutor groups. Since the very interesting interview with Umra Omar, we look forward to introducing menstrual cups on campus soon.

2020 Wins

Some of the wins are definitely having the opportunity to talk to so many professionals in this particular field. I am very grateful that we, as a student group, gained so much knowledge through panels, interviews and discussions regarding menstrual health that we are hoping to pass on to the broader WK community. Most recently, we conducted a menstrual health survey concerning all Waterford students who menstruate. In this survey we asked about their concerns regarding menstruating on campus, their overall experiences with it and asked about questions they might have but where always too shy to ask. This has helped us get an idea of what information needs to be provided in the future as well as what needs to be clarified regarding menstruation.

Looking Forward

For the future, I am very excited to see our projects develop and grow as well as growing on a personal level from all experiences gained from being a part of such wonderful organisations and clubs on campus.

Opportunities for Collaboration

In order for effective change to happen, the aim is to expand as many projects as possible to the Swazi community and share all knowledge and experiences gained with people outside our campus. Additionally, the importance lies in exchanging knowledge, meaning also acquiring knowledge from external people. If this works, I am completely confident that we can make a difference in the world and set an example.

Alumni Engagement Note

If you would like to support the Menstrual Health initiative, either financially or through sharing your knowledge or expertise, please email engagement@waterford.sz and we will connect you to the Asinakekelane team.

Do you have memories of initiatives that you started or participated in on campus? Are you currently working on initiatives that speak to the Kamhlaba values? We would love to share them with the community. Email us at engagement@waterford.sz for more information

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