Affectionately known as the Minister of Menstruation, Candice Chirwa’s proudest achievement to date has been her work in changing the disempowering narrative surrounding periods.
“I believe that reshaping how periods are seen — in a positive light — and having the opportunity to give girls and women who menstruate the ability to be empowered has and continues to be my proudest achievement,”
The South Africa-based menstruation activist and academic is the founder of Qrate, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to educate young people by outlining some of the difficulties that are encountered and endured by women and girls.
“I am extremely proud of the work that Qrate has done for communities in providing menstrual education,” she continues.
Although absenteeism due to period poverty is unproven in South Africa, it is widely acknowledged that girls miss school due to their periods, which is one of the challenges Chirwa aims to educate children, parents, guardians, guidance staff and teachers about.
The 26-year-old is also a published author, having written Perils of Patriarchy and co-authored Flow: The Book About Menstruation. Chirwa is a University of the Witwatersrand master’s graduate and is in the process of completing her PhD in development studies.
She says that becoming an advocate for menstrual and period education has been a journey filled with doubt, which has made her learn that doing what one loves will not always be easy.
“I have had days when it’s been really hard and I wanted to give up the role of providing menstrual education and awareness, but I always remain grounded by the fact that I’m doing what I love. I have taken the days of doubt and embraced them as signs of growth and renewal,” she says.
Chirwa notes that she often recalls a conversation with her mother in which she was encouraged to pursue her passion in life. However, along the way her passion has been put into doubt when people have disputed the importance of the work she does.
“I would even go so far as to highlight my academia experience where I was informed by the head of department to drop out as he believed that menstrual health was not relevant enough. That moment will always remain with me.”
Chirwa’s master’s research focused on process tracing men’s perspectives on menstruation in order to understand the true nature of period stigma and taboos.
“I still stand by my mom’s dedication to passion. To further drive my commitment, I am reminded by Rumi’s words: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”
If Chirwa could achieve one thing for South Africa it would be to make paid period leave a reality. Disorders such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome are debilitating and excruciating, and they both cause menstrual problems, which can lead to heavy bleeding, making it difficult for women to carry out daily tasks.
“Menstruators deserve to take the time off from work when their period symptoms (cramps in particular) are severe,” she says. “Paid period leave is not a new concept. Japan was the first country to implement this policy in 1920. I’d like to see that [here] in my lifetime,” she says.
“Let’s change the world one period at a time.”