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The Feminist Stokvel’s Hair Soirée and SA’s natural-hair evolution

On Thursday night a group of grown women will get together at a swanky Melrose coffee shop to do each other’s hair.

To many, it may not make sense to have a special event dedicated to teaching women how to take care of their hair. After all, didn’t their mothers teach them?

But we’re talking about natural hair, and many of the products that our mothers have sworn by are damaging to our scalps. The key ingredients in crème relaxers, so common in supermarkets, chemists and bathroom cabinets, are either sodium hydroxide or caustic soda lye – damaging chemicals found in paint thinners and liquid drain cleaners. It’s unsurprising then that many black girls and women have at some point suffered chemical burns to their scalps as a result of using hair relaxers.

“The chemicals used in relaxers enter the body through the scalp, most often when there are burns and cuts on the skin,” says Kavuli Nyali-Binase, hair guru and editor of the Good Hair Diaries.

Today, we know better. We recognise the stigma against natural hair and we know that there are better, more gentle and more natural ways to care for our hair.

“There are lots of different products for natural hair now – better than a few years ago,” says Wisaal Anderson, a hair consultant and popular blogger.

feminist stokvelBut knowing that there are alternatives out there is not necessarily the same as knowing how to use them. That’s where the Hair Soirée come in.

Nyali-Binase and Anderson, are both members of the Feminist Stokvel, a group of eight women who joined forces in September 2014 with the aim of addressing the challenges black women in South Africa face every day – entrenched racism, sexism, and yes even how to care for your hair.

[Full disclosure: I am also a member of the Feminist Stokvel.]

Hair is what originally brought the Feminist Stokvel together and so it is that the group’s first public event revolves around hair, its care and its politics.

The Hair Soirée, which is intended to be a monthly event, was fully booked days ago, and tickets for the next event have already been snapped up.

The meetings will provide a space for women to discuss natural hair care, starting with the basic washing and drying and preventing hair damage, as well as race politics in the country.

Milisuthando Bongela, a blogger and creative consultant who is currently working on a documentary about hair, and is also a members of the Feminist Stokvel, said the event would provide a space for black women to exchange ideas about issues that affect them.

“While the focus won’t be on the politics, we are about nurturing a space where black women can feel safe to speak freely,” says Bongela.

Learn more about the Feminist Stokvel and the Hair Soirée here.

– Featured image by Pontsho Pilane.

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