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Episode 013: South Africa’s Department of Women & The Sanitary Dignity Implementation Framework with Sipiwo Matshoba


Sipiwo Matshoba is the Chief Director of Social Empowerment and Participation for South Africa’s Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. He is fiercely committed to the pursuit of about gender equity and women’s empowerment – with a special passion for helping girls stay in school and go on to become productive members of society (without menstruation getting in the way). He has worked for the South African government for more than 25 years, and is currently focused on developing the Sanitary Dignity Implementation Framework, which ensures access to menstrual health products for underserved women and girls.

In this episode, Sipiwo talks to us about his work with the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, his thoughts on gender inequality and its implications for society at large, what it was like to launch the South African Coalition for Menstrual Health and Hygiene during COVID-19 – and even shares his experience meeting Nelson Mandela as a college student!

Notable Quotes

“The most important thing is the notion of human empowerment and gender equality…how you can never achieve democracy and an ethical society without the affirmation of woman, first and foremost”

“Women give birth to us, as human beings. And it makes no sense, it's absolutely ridiculous, to think that [they] can just be deemed inferior, or could not be able to access specific privileges. Because of patriarchy, culture, religion, and all the prejudices that are there in society.”


  • How Sipiwo’s work as a policymaker has evolved since starting with the South African government in 1994, right after the nation gained its independence
  • What fuels his passion for menstrual health management and reproductive health issues – and why everyone should care about women’s empowerment
  • What this work has taught him about the driving sociopolitical factors behind gender inequity and period poverty – including prejudice, patriarchy, and the lack menstruator-friendly WASH infrastructures
  • The importance of helping girls stay in school, achieve their full potential and go on to become an active contributing members of society, regardless of menstruation
  • How unequal educational barriers for girls and boys go on to shape the structure of the economy and society as a whole
  • Sipiwo’s experience meeting Nelson Mandela as a college student
  • The significance of launching the South African Coalition for Menstrual Health and Hygiene in 2020 – and how the coalition overcame pandemic-related challenges to make a difference in its first year
  • Why it’s important for government and civil society (as well as different NGOs and research orgs) to work together and collaborate for optimal impact


Email: sipiwo.matshoba@gmail.gov.za

LinkedIn: Sipiwo Matshoba

Website: http://www.women.gov.za/

Facebook: Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities 

Twitter: @DWYPD_ZA 


Sipiwo Matshoba is the Chief Director of Social Empowerment and Participation for South Africa’s Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (SADWYPD). He has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and Ethics from the University of Johannesburg and has been working the South African government for over 25 years.

Support the show (http://bit.ly/donatetodfg)


Jessica Wiliams  0:00
Welcome to the Days for Girls Podcast, a show about breaking barriers for women and girls around the world. I'm your host, Jessica Wiliams, Chief Communications Officer at Days for Girls International. At Days for Girls, we believe in a world where periods are never a problem. We are on a mission to shatter the stigma and limitations associated with menstruation by increasing access to sustainable period products, and menstrual health education for all people with periods.

Today's guest is from South Africa. Sipiwo Matshoba is the chief director of social empowerment and participation for South Africa's Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. He has a master's degree in philosophy and ethics from the University of Johannesburg, and has been working in the South African government for over 25 years. He is currently deeply involved in the Sanitary Dignity Implementation Framework to enable indigent women and girls to access sanitary products. I am so excited to share this conversation with you today. We had so much fun, I just really enjoyed talking with Sipiwo. The connection was not perfect on this episode, but I hope you can look past the audio quality and really enjoy the content. Now let's go on to the show. Hi, Sipiwo. It is so nice to have you on the Days for Girls Podcast today. How are you?

Sipiwo Matshoba  1:33
I'm very well thank you and you?

Jessica Wiliams  1:35
I'm good. I'm good. It's early in the morning here where I am. So I'm still kind of waking up.

Sipiwo Matshoba  1:43
Yeah, I'm sure the energies will be flowing soon.

Jessica Wiliams  1:46
Yes, I know, I can tell you're a very energetic person. So I'm gonna absorb that from you. So you have been working in the government and in South Africa for quite a while. Can you tell everyone about your your background, the ministries that you've worked for and where you currently are?

Sipiwo Matshoba  2:10
Yes, and it's a very interesting navigation from one specific government department to the other. And I promise you, nothing was pre planned. It was just a plunge. And I happen to enjoy it throughout. Basically, I did my high school or my formative education and high school in Eastern Cape, that is a province where I was born. And then I did my university education at the University of Western Cape in Cape Town, where I did my Political Studies at undergrad level. And then I did my post grad in development studies. After, later on down the line, I went to the University of Johannesburg, but I was working at a point where I did an M Phil in philosophy. And dealing specifically with ethics. The first time that my career started was the liberation just after independence day, so to speak, because we we got our freedom in '94. So out of university, I wasn't very clear exactly how my career will pick off or will take off. But you know, with the air of confidence. During those years where there was a lot of optimism, I started working in the national parliament, in Cape Town where I went, I worked for the portfolio committee on defense. And that got me to understand issues around defense policy. And during that transition period, we were very much involved in policy shifts. Therefore were very much crafting policies, new policies that would meet the demands of the time. And then after, I could then smartly get employment at the Department of Defense at the human resource section of the defense secretary.

I learned a lot about the military, and thereafter, in '99, I joined the Department of Provincial and Local Government, where now I was in a different environment dealing with the interrelatedness between the three, the three spheres of government, national, provincial and local, and it made one understand constitutionalism better. The inter-governmental relations framework, you know, how these spheres you know, work together. Where do they intersect? And where do they diverge? So, indeed, that was quite an experience. Of course, we're not exactly like the federal state in the US, together with the States, where there's a greater autonomy within the states. There is a similar model, kind of a hybrid model. But we are in a state, but there is a great degree of autonomy in the provinces, which in your case would be the states, which we call provinces, to the Department of arts and culture, which was also very interesting now to understand heritage issues.

And of course, it's very, very important – especially for a society in transition –  to understand or to retrieve important heritage issues which were neglected or which were not encouraged to, to be aware of, because of the particular Pathak mindset at the time. So that was also a very important period for me, that was now in the early 2000s. And then eventually, I landed at the Department of Women. In the presidency, it had not included Youth and Persons with Disabilities at the time. Well, I suppose for me, what was great about it was that I was always involved in gender issues, I've always seen myself in a way as one with feminists, in terms of the the conceptual, the ideology, as well as practice. But of course, we also, you know, during that process, you learn a lot in understanding gender dynamics, you visit and revisit your assumptions, you know, so I wasn't, I wasn't lost at all, you know. So, I've been there since the current day or moment that I'm speaking with you.

And for me, the most important thing really is about the notion of human empowerment and gender equality, and how it is important in a society, and how you can never achieve democracy and an ethical society without the affirmation of woman, first and foremost, as the majority population in any country, for that matter. I think the fact that the simple logic is that we are born of women, you know, women give birth to us, as human beings. And then it makes no sense, it's absolutely ridiculous, then to think that all of a sudden, those people can just be deemed inferior, or could not be able to access specific privileges. Because of patriarchy, culture, religion, and all the prejudices that are there in society. So I just felt completely at home, or menstrual health management, sexual reproductive health rights issues, I've so much passion about, and I feel that there's just so much it's such an expansive field, and there's a lot that still needs to be done. And there's a lot of information that still needs to be disseminated to wider society out there. There's so much also that needs that one needs to unlearn, you know, because you get confronted with new, exciting dynamics every day.

So yes, we are quite a small unit at the department. But we have a very energetic lot. And in fact, I think that we're punching above our weight, in as far as you know, bringing this matter up into into the pedestal. Working with state departments to create an entire an integrated work environment, and also dovetailing that with provinces, you know, because provinces are the ones that ultimately implement the program. They're the ones who roll out these menstrual products to schools, you know. So, it has taught us a lot about inter-governmental relations, as well as intra-governmental relations, and also a sobering view as well about some of the challenges in terms of prejudice, patriarchy, the being at the helm of it. And also just simple things like the enabling environment where sometimes when you go to rural settings, or in rural provinces, the infrastructure in the schools is not friendly to menstruators. You know, when you realize that, you know, issues of WASH, the friendliness, and the accommodative-ness of the  hasdwashing facilities and the toilets, there's a lot that needs to be done. In fact, what you realize is that when schools are constructed, there is no particular model that accompanies exactly how the handwashing facilities, how they toilet facilities should be, should be mirrored. In other words, the aspect of dignity does not come in, you know, so when this infrastructure is constructed, is almost like, you know, it's an afterthought, you know, it's almost like people are saying: well the school is almost done, other issues are just a mere add on. So there's no consideration of the comfortability, and safety that has to accompany such facilities for menstruators.

Jessica Wiliams  11:03
I can tell that you're really inspirational leader within the government and in South Africa with your community. Can you talk to me about what you mean, when you say like, we're punching above our weight? Because it sounds like, where we're doing amazing stuff. And you're really proud of it. And I want to hear more about that.

Sipiwo Matshoba  11:20
Yes, well, we believe that less is more well, because of circumstances anyway – we would have loved to have more human resources in our unit, more hands on deck. A lot of went great, but still we're a small unit at the department. But what we decided to do was that… look, the most important thing is that you've got to draw in other resources, and actually use them and make it a point that those that will draw, also buy in into the program or into your mission. And vision. That is why the most important thing for us, before we could even start doing any program, was to look at institutional mechanisms. And to say, first and foremost, let's establish a national, a national task team, an interdepartmental center to take me to task team, where we draw state departments at national level. Like have social development, infrastructure departments, those departments that deal with water, and sanitation, then you also print a provincial representative. So that now in a way, you look much bigger than you actually are, because you've drawn all the players, and you meet at a quarterly basis. And you actually plan as one to say, all of us are confronted by this. And especially, for instance, our target audience in as far as this program.

But of course, we still have challenges in terms of resources. Like to target what we call “Quintiles 123” schools, which are no fee paying schools, to include special schools, as well as fund schools. That's one category. The next category: students at post education institutions, you know, universities and mandate institutions, woman in correctional centers, that is many inmates, then also to include women in public hospitals, also to include women and girls in communities, those that have been identified by local government institutions, in those that are what we call an agent list, you know, so that you make it a point that potential beneficiaries, so to speak, because once we have that, in our minds, it gives us a nice planning tool. Okay, where do we start now?

Sitting as a collective, we're able then to, in a way, get everybody's thinking and also converge on exactly how to start, because we did get a budget. For instance, right, a new financial year 2021-22 with what, $217 million, which then we we dispersed to provinces in equitable shares. So what was very important therefore was to say, okay, with what we have now, which is not necessarily enough, where do we start? And we are clear that they start at school, every specialist school and farm school. Because the strategic importance of that is that we would want children or menstruators to not miss out at school, we want them to continuously learn, and to not find this natural phenomenon to be a barrier for their own self development. And also our wish was that we don't want interrupted schooling at that formative level, you know, from periods. So a menstruator who reaches menarche up until she graduates in grade 12 before going to, to varsity or to college. So one thing, the primary and the high school environment to be friendlier to menstruators, so that they can be able to achieve their fullest potential, and also how we link this in the long term.

Unknown Speaker  16:07
In terms of human empowerment, and gender equality, we say that, if boys allowed uninterrupted learning, and girls are not, then you're going to find that skewed situation at structural level in the boardrooms, in government, in the private sector, in the NGO and the NGOs, whereby women do not sit where they rightfully should sit in the leadership excellence of those institutions. So we have this national casting that we will we develop, which will work seamlessly, and I enjoy working with them, because they have actually enriched us. So in a way, therefore, we punch above our weight, in the sense that though we are small – at our department, our level – but we are big in the sense that we have [inaudible] and that we've become stronger, and we have become more effective, you know….

Jessica Wiliams  17:05
You're small but mighty.

Sipiwo Matshoba  17:08

Jessica Wiliams  17:12
I love it. I was reading the Sanitary Dignity Policy Framework. And at the very top, there's a there's a quote from Nelson Mandela, and it says: “As long as women are bound by poverty, and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance.” And I love that you start the framework out with that, quote. It's so great. And I am curious, um, you know, in your time in government, did you ever get the opportunity to meet former President Nelson Mandela?

Sipiwo Matshoba  17:50
Yes, I did. I did. Well, that was before I actually got into government. Because at the time when he was released from Robben Island, I was still a student activist at the university. And at that time, where we were campaigning because we knew we could sense that the election was at hand, and in no time, which we were voting for the first time. So one or two occasions and I must say, we're blessed, because it didn't necessarily happen all the time. He happened to visit our campus. And then we, of course, he addressed us, and we had an opportunity just to have those few moments of handshaking, you know, and I remember at one point, he came with Mrs. Crusher Masha, they were not married by then. But already we could see that yeah, there is some there's some passion there. There's something going on with these two, you know, so  meeting him was absolutely amazing. It was awesome. And then when I got into government, there he was, as President. And I think what he did for us was to really bring a sense of people's sense of nationhood, a sense of unity. And I believe that if we did not have a phenomenal life, that things could have easily been, could have easily turned worse in the country, so to speak. So I think really, he he was a typical unifier and a person whom we really need that at that time, you know, that was the right time. That was the right moment. I think history was kind to us in the sense of bequeathing us such a phenomenal human being. So yeah, wow. Yeah. Those moments, they're always etched in my memory. I shall never forget.

Jessica Wiliams  20:06
I bet that was pretty incredible. So I can tell that you're you're really passionate about, you know, incorporating women's rights and women's issues into policies that will, you know, help them rise and contribute to society. I'm curious, do you have children of your own?

Sipiwo Matshoba  20:31
Yes, I do. Yes, I have two girls. And a boy. And both girls are at university right now. In fact, one, the firstborn is graduating this year. She's going to do a Bachelor of Laws, a postgraduate degree this year, the secondborn is going to do a second year of authentically. And then the last one, my boy is in grade eight, at high school. So yeah, those those three awesome people are really what really keeps me, you know, going.

Jessica Wiliams  21:18
I think that they are very lucky to have you as a father, I bet you were great, you know, offered great guidance and leadership. And so yeah, I just I'm really inspired by the work that you're doing and the way you approach the work with such dignity and integrity and inspiration, really, you know. And I appreciate you being out there being a male ally to all of these women and girls around the world. And can you talk a little bit about the South African Coalition for Menstrual Health and Hygiene? Is that something that your department is part of?

Sipiwo Matshoba  21:58
Yes, yes, yes, yes. In fact, it was launched on the 9-10th of March, last year in 2020. We think that it was one of the most important milestones, in as far as menstrual health is concerned. Because it was important to realize that government alone, without civil society and other players will not achieve optimally. Therefore, it's important to bring in other players to enrich the process, and also to widen the scope of thinking, and innovation. So for us, it was very important, we were part of the launch, we initiated it, together with our colleagues in the NFA. Of course, [inaudible] like Water Aid, and Days for Girls – Diana was right in the middle, in the thick of things. So at launch, we were all together, very, very excited, because for the first time, we could bring government and civil society closer together. Not that there was no cooperation before, but this one was deliberate, it was pointed, and we wanted to make it a point that we all understand that we have a role to play in the space. Therefore, without necessarily going off a tangent and contradicting each other, let us look at areas of commonality, explore them to the fullest, and then where there is divergence. We can manage that as well.

And in fact, since the formation of the coalition, we have found that, to me, there is so much convergence, you know, and in fact, you actually, in a way, decry the last time and moment, you'd wish that perhaps we had established the South African Coalition of Menstrual Health Management much earlier, you know, because now we're in a form stage. [inaudible] But well, we're happy that at least we had started the coalition. And then what obviously was a challenge is that, that we established it in March, and that was right at the threshold of the COVID-19 pandemic. And we're not really able to work as much as we could, physically, but out of the virtual interactions that we conducted during the course of last year, there is a lot that we did by way of webinars, using social media and, you know, doing what we can to ensure that we highlight issues of menstrual health management. And I believe that we have done a lot.

And in fact, this gave us so much confidence and pride to realize that, in fact, this coalition does work. Because sometimes people think that coalitions are loose and unmanageable, and that they are big egos – there are certain personalities that want to be overbearing on others. But really, I found that with the formation of the steering committee to steer the program, as well as having the various task teams, that enabled everybody to find his or her space. In other words, you join a task team where you can drive, where you can contribute optimally, you know, so in other words, no one is left without a sense of purpose. So I think that dimension of creating those specific task teams, and then the information then goes up to the steering committee, and then whoever our plenaries when it is required, it has given everybody a sense of purpose. And of course, we still need to grow, we still need to grow. And we still need to further innovate. Right. But I think, in this few months that we have been in existence, I think, a lot has been done. And I'm sure a lot can be done as well.

Jessica Wiliams  26:38
Incredible. So Sipiwo, where can people connect with you, learn more about your work, support you if they want to do that? Where did they go?

Sipiwo Matshoba  26:48
Oh yes, well I've got a an email address, of course, which I'm sure I've shared with you. I've got mobile numbers, and also, I've got a landline. So I suppose it's a matter of just ensuring that my details are well known. Because that is the kind of engagement that we also look for, to interface and to share more information with others so that they can grow from us, and we can grow from them as well. So basically, I tried to make it a point that my email address is not private property, where they can access everybody can access it, you know, that is what we're really trying to do. Because we we need all the assistance, morale, as well as, of course, financial, and otherwise. But you know, more than anything, what is important, really, for us is a sense of solidarity. You know, where people can share with us the kind of research findings that they have, that they have embarked upon before. Because we also want to increase our knowledge hub, you know, because we think that in this area, there's a lot of research. But at the same time, there is research that has already been done. And we don't know. So we it's important, therefore, to have a sense of, you know, where do we tap this information from? You know, is there a knowledge hub that you can just easily, you know, which could be a repository on all issues that relate to MHM? And of course, we are working in collaboration with the African Coalition, so naturally, we will collaborate. But we really think that the most important thing really, is to deepen the area of advocacy, research policy.

In South Africa, we are lucky in the sense that our very progressive constitution, and progressive legislation, policies and frameworks have been quite an amazing enabler for us, you know. In fact, we have such a plethora of legislation that gives us more impetus than some of the countries in the continent for instance, but of course, since we're part of the African Coalition, we also need to assist them in terms of, you know, progressive policies that are more understanding and more discerning on issues of human empowerment and gender equality. So really those, that's why we really need a festival of ideas. That's how I could put it. We crave for a festival of ideas so that you can really grow. You know, once you grow intellectually at the qualitative level, then it's easy to do anything.

Jessica Wiliams  30:22
Absolutely, I love it. And we'll put your email in the show notes. And then I just want to also add that you are on LinkedIn because I did connect with you there. So I will put your LinkedIn on on the show notes as well for those who want to follow your work or connect with you. This has just been a lovely conversation. I really appreciate your time.

Sipiwo Matshoba  30:44
Thank you so much, indeed. I was not aware that 30 minutes is over!

Jessica Wiliams  30:56
I know, it goes by so fast.

Sipiwo Matshoba  30:58
Yes, it really does.

Jessica Wiliams  31:04
The Days for Girls Podcast is produced by Days for Girls International. For show notes and resources mentioned in this episode, visit daysforgirls.org/podcast. If you'd like to support the work we do on the show, leave a rating or a review wherever you listen, subscribe to the show, and share our episodes on social media for with your friends. To learn more about these for girls and to join our global movement, please visit daysforgirls.org. Thank you for listening. See you next time.

Days for Girls
Days for Girls is an award-winning global NGO bringing menstrual health, dignity and opportunity to 3+ million girls (and counting!) worldwide.