“We are all well aware that without an education, obtaining employment and earning an income is almost impossible,” says Judy Vilakazi, Regional CSR Manager at Epiroc South Africa. “A sad reality in most African countries is that many young women don’t attend school during their monthly menstrual cycle because they cannot afford sanitary pads. This means they miss up to one week of class every month simply because they lack the basic necessities. Epiroc is committed to promoting gender diversity, so we felt compelled to invest in the Palesa Pads initiative. By enabling female learners to attend school during their menstrual cycle, we are giving them an opportunity to obtain an education, earn an income and contribute to the mainstream economy. At the same time we are investing in a future talent pool that will contribute to the future gender diversity in the work space.”
Epiroc has been supporting and donating reusable Palesa Pads to numerous schools over the past two years. Kicking off with a donation to Bekekayo Primary School in February 2020, Epiroc continued throughout 2020 and 2021 with donations to ACFS Teenage Girls Programme Tsakani and Naledi, Tholokele and Manger Care Centres, Bonani Primary School and Mmantutule Senior Secondary School. “Determined to reach a target that we had set for ourselves of donating Palesa Pads to 1000 young ladies by the end of 2021, we decided to join the inspirational ‘365daysOfkindness’ campaign spearheaded by WiMSA (Women in Mining South Africa), pledging to donate our outstanding balance to 250 young women,” affirms Judy.
The official hand-over took place at Tubake Secondary School in Magatle, Limpopo, earlier this year. The event was organised by Karabo Mothapo from WiMSA, who grew up in the area and whose mom is a teacher at Tubake. “We opened our programme in the customary manner,” says Karabo. “After some upbeat music, singing and dancing, the Palesa Pad activation team presented a comprehensive menstrual health education session to the girls to help break the stigmas and taboos surrounding menstrual cycles.” Following the edutainment, Romika Ramlall Naidu, Employee Branding & Social Media Specialist at Epiroc, handed over the 250 Palesa Pads to the young women. Motsepe Mmapula, a learner at Tubake, spoke on behalf of all the girls: “Thank you for keeping our pride high by enabling us to stay in school and get an education.” Tubake Principal, Mr. R.S. Matlala, also expressed his sincere appreciation. “The presentation by the team showing our daughters how to use and care for the sanitary towels will go a long way to assist these young leaders of tomorrow to become better persons. I will remain ever grateful and it is my hope that this is the beginning of a greater association for the future.”
Extending their thanks to Epiroc for their support, WiMSA’s Danielle Bearman emphasises that this a tremendous opportunity to not only donate to a good cause but to also teach the future generation about the vital role of sustainability in improving lives. “Epiroc has shown a constant stream of support to the WiMSA community through various initiatives and platforms so it came as no surprise when they stepped in yet again to provide sponsorship of 473 buckets to young female learners. For the next five years these girls will not have to worry about sanitary towels and can remain in class, focusing on their education.
It is our sincere hope that other mining companies will follow Epiroc’s example and empower girls to be the best that they can be. With every bucket donated, we are one step closer to reaching our 2022 goal to keep 200,000 girls in school in an effort to making period poverty a thing of the past.”
Shérie de Wet, who founded Palesa Pads Foundation in 2017, says they were first introduced to Epiroc at a WiMSA conference in November 2019. “Kathryn Coetzer, Epiroc’s Regional Indirect Sales Manager, eagerly stepped forward to pledge her support with 200 Palesa Pads kits. We have also worked closely with Judy, travelling to many small charities and large schools to teach girls about their periods and empower them with a sustainable solution.” As a former teacher, education is extremely important to Shérie. She was horrified when she discovered that millions of girls were missing out on 3 to 5 days of school each month because of something as natural as their menstrual cycles. “During my research I also became aware of the unhygienic alternatives girls are using. The reality of period poverty is that it doesn’t only affect girls once a month; it affects them throughout their entire lives as well as their children’s lives. Many girls are vulnerable while staying at home and can fall victim to rape and unwanted pregnancies. Due to all the school days missed, girls often drop out of school altogether and seek unskilled employment.”
Shérie points out that in order to fix the inequalities of the past the playing field has to be levelled by giving women the same opportunities to succeed as men. “At Palesa Pads we believe it starts with a comfortable period to enable girls to attend class unhindered and perform their best every day of the month.” Single use pads are uncomfortable, unaffordable and inaccessible on a regular basis for many girls in disadvantaged areas. So Shérie’s solution is a good-quality reusable pad that is easy to wash and can be used over a young girl’s entire school career. The Palesa Pads (Palesa means ‘flower’ in Sotho, Pedi and seTswana) are manufactured from high quality fabric and contain no chemicals to prevent irritation and unpleasant odours. The core is an absorbent toweling and the entire pad is covered is a strong waterproof fabric for maximum protection, comfort and longevity; all fabrics are completely stain resistant.
The Palesa reusable pads have a positive impact on the environment too. A woman will use around 11,000 pads or tampons during her lifetime. Made from single-use plastic and other chemicals, these products are harmful to the environment, taking hundreds of years to decompose, clogging drains and ending up in landfills and in the oceans. Shérie also points out that as there is no municipal refuse collection service in rural areas, the pads and tampons end up in pit latrines which then fill up quickly and become unusable. As each Palesa Pad can be used up to 200 times before it becomes worn or no longer comfortable or effective, one bucket with 6 pads replaces 1,200 disposable pads!
The pads are manufactured by Palesa Pads Foundation’s sister organisation, Palesa Pads Pty Ltd., at a factory in Meyerton, South of Johannesburg, employing thirty-two ladies and men. As the distributor, Palesa Pads Foundation has partnered with a small local transport business that delivers directly to each school. Through several marketing initiatives Shérie and her team have raised enough funds to support 110,000 girls in South Africa and neighbouring countries.
In closing, Judy confirms that to date, Epiroc has sponsored 1,005 girls with Palesa Pads, enabling these young women to attend school every day and to focus on their education, helping them to fulfil their career aspirations. Epiroc’s donation will also keep over a million pieces of single-use plastic out of the environment.