Aileen Hlongoane: I didn’t envision that our organisation would have such a great impact on the country

The lack of sanitary pads is a human rights issue. It infringes on the right to dignity, education, health & privacy Click To Tweet

Founder and president of Pledge a Pad SA, 28-year-old Aileen Hlongoane was born in Kwa-Ndebele in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. Upon completing her high school with a distinction, Aileen enrolled for an LLB degree at the University of Pretoria. It was whilst volunteering at the institution’s Centre of Sexualities, Aids, and Gender that she discovered that young girls from underprivileged communities are forced to miss 3–4 days of school every month because they do not have access to sanitary pads. 

Aileen then established Pledge a Pad SA, a non-profit organisation that aims to educate young girls from lower income households about menstrual and reproductive health as well as provide them with sanitary towels in a bid to lower the high school- absenteeism rate of these young girls.

SLA contributor Kutlwano Mokgojwa catches up with the 2015 Mail & Guardian top 200 young South Africans about challenging social myths and taboos surrounding menstruation, appealing to the Constitutional court to have provincial governments provide free sanitary pads to schoolgirls and increasing the access to sanitary pads across the country.

I figured that when faced with a decision between bread and sanitary pads, they'd always choose the former Click To Tweet

Prior to Pledge a Pad SA, there were virtually no organisations founded for the sole purpose of affording schoolgirls from lower LSM communities to attend school during their periods.

What triggered you to change that in South Africa?

My tenure as a volunteer at the Centre for the Study of AIDS was my springboard. Whilst I was pursuing my LLB degree, I volunteered at the Centre for the Study of AIDS, at the University of Pretoria.

We visited many orphanages and like places of safety, which houses many girls, yet have very little resources. I figured that when faced with a decision between bread and sanitary pads, they would always choose the former. Therefore, that “time of the month” would be a nightmare to the affected girls.

The subject of menstruation is still very much a taboo what impediments, if any, did that cause for your organisation?

Requesting donations from males and older women was difficult and sometimes impossible. Men think this is something that only women should talk about. The elder women feel disrespected when a young woman or a man speaks to them about anything that has to do with the menstrual cycle.

Requesting donations from males and older women was difficult and sometimes impossible Click To Tweet

Since the establishment of your organisation, other Non-Profit Organisations dealing with the same issue have been established. As of this year, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government has started an initiative to supply schoolgirls from lower LSM schools with sanitary pads.

Did you envision that your organisation would have such an impact? Why do you think the issue wasn’t tackled earlier?

I really did not envision that our organisation would have such a great impact on the country. Not enough awareness was created on this issue and many people needed to be educated on the plight of young women and girls who cannot afford sanitary pads.

The lack of sanitary pads is a human rights issue and it infringes on the right to dignity, education, health and privacy. Therefore there exist constitutional grounds to bring an application at the Constitutional Court to compel other Provincial Governments to provide free sanitary pads.

There have been several petitions to have the South African government levy the tax on sanitary pads and tampons. What is your view on that?

As Pledge a Pad, our main concern is the access to sanitary pad, therefore we support initiatives that will increase access to sanitary pads.

You started the organisation whilst still studying, what effect did it have on what you initially wanted to do after school? How has running such an organisation affected your worldview and what has been the most gratifying experience you have had since the establishment of Pledge a Pad?

I lost the interest in studying towards my LLB degree and I wanted to run Pledge a Pad full time and turn it into my career. I realised that the reasons we judge and discriminate against each other as people stems from ignorance and lack of education.

Women suffer much prejudice just by virtue of being women; unless the status quo is dealt with, women will always lag behind compared to their male counterparts.

What would you say is a skill that is essential in running a Non-Profit Organisation?

A combination of business skills and care for people.

You need a combination of business schools and care for people to run a non-profit @Aileenhlongoane Click To Tweet

What is the way forward for Pledge a Pad?

Expand our operations and engage more state holders. Continue to advocate for women’s rights.

What tasty food do you think would be disgusting over rice?


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About Kutlwano Mokgojwa

Kutlwano Mokgojwa is a final year BA Visual Culture Studies student who seeks to challenge the way women, Africa, African subjects as well as Black people are depicted in the 21st Century visual culture. She is passionate about empowering previously disadvantaged persons and communities. She is an avid reader and serial series watcher. Kutlwano appreciates cultural diversity, good music, design, company, food and art.

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