Growing up in one of the most dangerous areas in Cape Town stricken with teenage and unwanted pregnancies, was the driving force for Bonteheuwel born medical doctor Chanell Marthinussen to succeed in health sciences. Now, as the owner of The F-word, she educates women about their reproductive health and menstrual hygiene.
Marthinussen (28), the oldest of three siblings, never imagined herself as a doctor, but always knew that her passion was to lend a helping hand to the needy.
“I never imagined myself as a doctor, mainly because in my head I believed that I had to come from a line of doctors. I always knew, however, that I wanted to serve my community and the only way I thought I could was becoming a social worker,” she says.
Marthinussen says her goal of becoming a social worker changed when she mingled with friends back in high school. “I was fortunate enough to have a good group of friends at Kensington High, they influenced my choice of pursuing studies in the health sciences faculty.”
Growing up on the Cape Flats
Many of Marthinussen’s big life moments – the good the bad and the ugly – happened in Bonteheuwel. These include:
- She was surrounded by teenage and unwanted pregnancies and decided to never add to those statistics.
- Many family members are enslaved by drugs and alcohol, so drug abuse is not foreign to her.
- She has seen poverty and financial struggles at home and at school.
- There were many house robberies (at home) in the form of break-ins and car break-ins.
Having been exposed to all this, inspired her. “It has made me a stronger person. I learnt that in life, the hardships we go through make us better, more resilient, and more successful. As a doctor working in the Cape Flats, I can now relate to the things my patients endure and I can understand them in their context, because it is not foreign to me.”
Empowerment through women’s health
Experiencing these social ills as a young woman made Marthinussen believe that young women undervalued themselves and were not empowered enough.
“This ignited my spark to educate these young women and answer some of their health-related questions because sometimes their parents and/or teachers don’t have all the answers.”
She started a business called The F-word. At its core is educating females about their reproductive health and menstrual hygiene.
Time to take charge
Marthinussen found that “women don’t know much about their options in terms of menstrual sanitation”.
“As a result, they think that painful menstrual periods are something they must go through, but it is not. They don’t know that painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) and exceedingly long menstrual flow (dysmenorragia) can be managed.”
According to Marthinussen, women’s reproductive health is their responsibility, it is not in the hands of her partner or husband. Therefore, women need to know their contraception options and know where to access them.
“They aren’t even free to openly speak about their uncomfortable issues because they don’t know that they are allowed to. Something that I firmly stand against and hope to change through my online platform for education and women empowerment,” she adds.
Educating women about their sexual and reproductive health, has left Marthinussen feeling empowered to continue doing this kind of work because they continue to show signs that they are able to make informed decisions about their health.
“Many of them have been shocked by how many contraceptive choices they have and how those contraceptives work. Many of them have been pleased to know how their bodies actually work because nobody has previously told them.”
“The highlights for me are seeing women become comfortable to speak about their issues. Seeing some sisterhood form between them and me because they realise that they are not alone and that many other women too go through the same things.”
Looking into the future, Marthinussen would like “to be part of a decrease in the rate of teenage pregnancies in our country. I would like to see many more affordable or free women’s wellness clinics being opened. Platforms where women feel safe and empowered, because we don’t have existing spaces like this in our country.
“I would like women’s health and education to be more accessible to females from previously disadvantaged areas. We need more spaces for young girls to meet successful, empowered older women, and it has to come through unity in professions,” says Marthinussen.