Demystifying Menstruation

The Birth of Thoko’s Journey

Girls and young women in Southern Africa have very little knowledge, and receive even less information, about their everyday sexual and reproductive health and rights. Most of their lives are dominated by poverty, lack of sexuality education and a male dominated society that is rife with myths and misinformation, cultural beliefs that are not always based on fact and an education system that is generally failing them.

In steps Thoko, a young pan-African girl from a small village somewhere in Southern Africa…

Thoko is naïve, yet curious, she questions and does not necessarily accept everything she hears from teachers, friends or elders. Thoko is a typical adolescent, complete with issues, feelings and needs. Thoko is hungry for more information, for guidance to navigate the journey she is on as young girl and sometimes all she wants is to escape poverty and small-village life. She has a few special friends with whom she can openly discuss issues around feminine hygiene and menstruation. She has a boyfriend, Sandile, whom she likes, but is not sure of…

More importantly she engages YOU in her life, asks you for information and facts, pose questions and engages you to know the truth about menstruation which is often described as a curse by the society she lives in. You are her friend on the other side of a mobile phone, helping her know the truth through an easy to use, menu-driven technology called USSD - the beauty of USSD is that works on any kind of mobile phone.

You are the girl and young woman who shares Thoko’s life of poverty and misinformation. You are the girl and young woman who crave to know more on the sometimes-taboo topic of menstruation. You are the young girl who has never had the luxury of using sanitary pads and must make do with old rags and newspaper.

Together you and Thoko get to learn that menstruation is no curse, that you can get pregnant while menstruating (despite what your boyfriend says), that you are not dirty while having your period and that sugar daddies are not an option when it comes to getting money to buy sanitary pads…

What is Thoko’s Journey?

'You just need your handset - and interest - then you are in!'

Thoko’s Journey is mobile phone edutainment: developed by Gateway Health Institute with the collaboration of technology partner Digitata, funded by HIVOS and used by Katswe Sistahood for their Happy Flow Campaign in Zimbabwe. The goal is to engage and educate girls and young women on the topic of feminine hygiene and menstruation.

'I was able to start conversation about menstruation with my daughter. I just gave her a phone and asked her to play.’

The Happy Flow Q & A tests the knowledge gained by players during Thoko’s Journey and serves to reinforce that knowledge. Thoko’s Journey includes Tell Thoko What You Think -  a short survey to collect data from girls and young women through questions ranging from youth friendly clinic services, access to sanitary pads and their need to join Pachoto groups organized by Katswe Sistahood, among others.

What next for Thoko?

The success of Thoko’s Journey, and the excitement with which it was received by girls and young women in Zimbabwe, will see it grow to include more topics such as HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, teenage pregnancy, family planning and the need to complete school to escape poverty. Katswe Sistahood is now also engaging the deaf community in Zimbabwe: Apparently - a friend saw our USSD game - and thought it was a great idea to engage girls in the deaf community - so we are doing it!’

In South Africa, Sandile is embarking on his own journey with a similar game to educate young boys on circumcision, initiation schools and other topics relevant to boys and young men. And then, who knows, maybe one day soon Thoko and Sandile’s journeys might collide somewhere outside a small village in Southern Africa….

To join in on Thoko's Journey, dial *117*4683*000# from any Vodacom cellphone number in South Africa to play. You do not need a smartphone to play!



USSD – Unstructured Supplementary Service Data – is an easy to use, menu driven technology that is low-cost, does not need data and works on any kind of mobile phone.

Gateway Health Institute is a South African NGO with the following mission: Our Motto, Your Health. Your Rights is core to what we want to achieve. We aim to have a positive impact on the health and rights of hard to reach and vulnerable populations through advocacy, community empowerment projects, knowledge management, research and innovative technology.

Digitata Ltd. focuses on delivering intelligence in the mobile telecommunications and digital media arenas, enabling mobile operators, brands and agencies to offer their customers greater value and an enhanced user experience.

Katswe Sistahood is a Zimbabwean Youth-led Group that focuses on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of girls and young women. Their Pachoto groups give adolescent girls the opportunity to discuss sexual health issues in an open and safe environment.

Hivos is a major regional supporter and funder of initiatives that reach out to - and educate, adolescents on their sexual health and rights.Picture: Katswe Sistahood leadership with Dr Coenie Louw, E.D. of Gateway Health Institute.