Newly appointed Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced on Wednesday that the VAT on Sanitary Pads will be zero-rated from April 2019.  “The revenue loss associated with zero-rating these items is estimated at R1.2 billion. However, zero-rating these products targets low-income households and restores the dignity of our people,” Mboweni said while during his medium-term budget policy statement in Parliament.

It is because of this that we decided to hash it out with Matefo Morakeng  who has been fighting for the dignity of young girls across our country for years now and even launched Dear Bella, a quality sanitary pad brand aimed at low income households. We asked Matefo how the idea came about and she says it started with a grocery list.

“I was working with a group of women in the Eastern Free State, helping them do small income generating projects. One conversation about groceries prompted me to ask, “I don’t see sanitary pads in your list, what happens when you go on your periods?” one woman responded, we don’t.  I then asked why and she told me they get an injection from the local clinic which helps stop menstruation.

I was shocked as I had never heard of that being the reason for taking the injection.  Thereafter, I did my research and discovered that the issue of sanitary pads was so dire.  I must admit that all along, I never really gave any thought to the issue, but what I discovered in my research led me to decide to do something.

It is true that girls from poor families are struggling and it is sad because menstruation is a monthly thing.  Sometimes they use dangerous means of managing the process like using socks and stuffing them with sand, toilet paper, newspaper or even cloths.  Stories of girls in poverty stricken areas with high unemployment rates are really having a toll in most communities, so I decided I wanted to have a brand that can be affordable to low income households and still be of good quality.”

Starting or running any project obviously comes with its own ups and downs and she says that Dear Bella’s challenges have been emotional above all. However, people have been overly supportive in the engagements they have on a daily basis. The product is meant for struggling girls and women, even the price is so that they are able to afford it. They are also running a Buy and Donate campaign where donors are asked to pledge sanitary pads for those who can’t afford them.

“One heart breaking story that I recently heard was from one of Dear Bella ambassadors, who said to me, “it was so sad when one of the girls said it was the first time she ever held a pack of pads in her hands because at home, granny says she must use a cloth.”

Their biggest challenge has been trying to be able to provide for the many requests for assistance they receive. A number of NGOs and school teachers especially are struggling and Matefo continues to appeal to the generosity of the people to ensure that they their best to help the girls. Hence they have come up with various measures that they believe will enable them to get as much help as they need.  They host a monthly Pad-Raiser Breakfast and street Pop-Up Events. “We are hoping that people will embrace this initiative and support us so that we are able to help the girls.”

They currently have a Dear Bella Ambassador Programme which she’s proud of because through this programme they have gotten girls to commit to helping their fellow girls in their communities.  They have girls representing from all the provinces and that is a great start because it means there is a national footprint for Dear Bella.

“So seeing Dear Bella ambassadors get engaged in their communities, is very fulfilling for me especially knowing that they are not only dealing with sanitary pads issue, but are helping the girls all round. We are still in the early stages of the programme, but we are making progress. In 12 months, we should be able to have a good story to tell.”

Matefo says that Dear Bella is not just a sanitary pad brand. It is a support structure for girls and women in need so her dream is to grow the brand to such an extent that a girl from a poor family can be able to say because of Dear Bella, she have been able to make something of her life. She wants it to be a brand that is there for our communities.

One thing she always says and would like to impart on us is “Struggling families are amongst us. We know them and we can do little things to help them.”