Menstruation Matters

 

Menstruation matters, especially to the millions of girls being held back by their periods. Some studies show that in some parts of Uganda, 74% of girls believe that period pain is a sign of illness, 50% of girls avoid school because of their period and 43% believe that it is harmful to run or dance during their period.

The Music Circle is raising funds to support Irise International. With a donation from The Music Circle, Irise will be able to educate 2,000 girls about their menstrual and reproductive health and to make a wide range of sanitary products available in their communities, so that every girl has a choice. Help us reach our goal and donate by clicking here.


 
 

Here is what you can do to help…

Raise awareness

On 28 May, Menstrual Hygiene Day, make some noise on social media. Read up on why menstruation matters, be informed, tweet and post.

You can use some of the following Menstrual Hygiene Day signs. Personalise them, print them out, take a selfie with your sign and post it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us and use the hashtags #MenstruationMatters and #NoMoreLimits.


Menstruation Matters: understanding the solutions with social enterprise Sanitree

Photo: Bharat Singh and Martha Reilly, co-directors of Sanitree

This May we are celebrating Menstruation Matters and focussing on how we can make women and girls feel confident about menstruation. Sanitree, a social enterprise founded and run by a team of nine students of Edinburgh University, is an organization already doing incredible work with these aims in mind. Sanitree produce sustainable, reusable sanitary products for women living in India. This year, The Music Circle is planning to support Irise International, a similar project in Uganda, as well as donate sanitary products to foodbanks in the UK and raise awareness about Menstruation Matters. I caught up with Bharat Singh and Martha Reilly, the co-directors of Sanitree, to discuss the role that projects such as these play in the wider issue of period poverty and our attitudes towards our bodies.

A social enterprise is a business model that reinvests its profit margin back into the project and directly benefits local communities. Sanitree, a project that is working under the umbrella of Enactus, is still in its nascent stages as it was established in September of last year but already provides employment for twenty-seven women in the Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh, India. Shocked by the stigma surrounding menstruation in his home town Bhind, Bharat spoke about some of the devastating effects of period poverty in this community. He claims that “young girls in India can miss out on as much as 25% of their education, or even drop out” as a result of the difficulties association with menstruation. The pair tell me that affordability is a key factor in this. Some women simply cannot afford sanitary products and use unclean and unsafe substitutes such as sawdust. Furthermore, even with a conventional plastic sanitary pad, women face difficulties in disposing of them as they are not allowed in the household waste.

“Sanitree’s conception is just as much about challenging the stigma as finding a solution”

The Sanitree team, upon visiting Bhind, found that there was a wider cultural issue of a lack of awareness and encountered popular beliefs such as the myth that if you are to touch a boy whilst you are on your period that this can result in pregnancy. However, this stigma isn’t just the case in India. In the UK, there is also a huge stigma surrounding menstruation that can be difficult for young women. This stigma, I would argue, contributes towards the exclusion and dismissal of menstruation related issues in politics. Period poverty is a huge issue in the UK. It is estimated that the average woman spends £18,000 throughout her lifetime simply on having a period and in Scotland 1 in 5 women admit that they struggle to buy sanitary products —statistics that are woefully underrepresented in the media. The ongoing campaign to end the “Tampon Tax” and the classification of sanitary products as luxury items is indicative of the dismissal and lack of understanding shown by political bodies of the economic challenges currently posed by menstruation. In both India and UK there is a lack of knowledge about the issue and projects such as both Sanitree and Irise raise awareness simply by existing. Both Bharat and Martha are resolute on the fact that Sanitree’s conception is just as much about challenging the stigma as it is finding a solution.

An ecofeminist organization

In addition to the tangible benefits in terms of cost, the reusable sanitary pads do not incur the same environmental issues of similar plastic products. Bharat tells me that one sanitary pad can have the same amount of plastic as up to three plastic bags. As environmental sustainability is at the heart of Sanitree’s philosophy, the project considers itself an ecofeminist organization. The term ecofeminism originated in the 1970s and is grounded in the contention that the connection between the oppression of women and the rest of nature must be recognized to understand adequately both oppressions. Sanitree defines itself as ecofeminist as its aims are rooted in the shared concepts of environmentalism and feminism.

Both Bharat and Martha talk about the sense of agency that derives from taking control of your plastic consumption, likening it to “remembering your bag for life” and even quoting Simone De Beauvoir and her theory of transcendence versus immanence. Transcendence being the act of making decisions outside your personal sphere and immanence, traditionally associated with the feminine, as not engaging with projects outside of that sphere. Sanitree identify the decision to cut down one’s use of plastic as a transcendent act and, in what has been coined the “Blue Planet Effect”, argue that there has been a significant shift in our cultural consciousness regarding plastic and that this developing environmental consciousness can be viewed from a feminist perspective as a reclaiming of agency.

It is this sense of agency that I feel lies at the heart of why initiatives such as Sanitree and Irise are so powerful. Not only does Sanitree provide employment opportunities for women within their own community and have the end goal for the business to be completely taken over by these women, but they also engage people of all backgrounds and builds a community in speaking up against period stigma. The experience of menstruation is a transnational one and cannot be solved if there is no discussion surrounding it. Both Martha and Bharat wanted to establish from the start that not all women have periods and not all people who have periods are women and so Sanitree, and the ongoing debate surrounding menstruation, is a step towards coming to terms with our bodies in a way that is positive without being gendered.

One of The Circle’s key drives is “Women Empowering Women” and in the case of Sanitree it is clear that a sense of solidarity is becoming more and more visible as campaigns such as this grow. Both Martha and Bharat express the immense amount of support they have had from both the community in Bhind to the Scottish government’s commitment to this issue. They both believe that Scotland is a leader on progressive legislation and with the help of a number of MSPs, the group are campaigning for the provision of free sanitary products for those children who are offered free school meals, in addition to running pad making workshops and campaigning in the streets of Edinburgh.

The conversation surrounding menstrual wellbeing needs to be more open and frank to empower women and girls everywhere. Get a bloody education and find out more about The Circle’s Menstruation Matters Campaign and donate to our project with Irise International.

 

 

 

 

Written by @AnnaRenfrew. Anna is a student at The University of Edinburgh and a volunteer at The Circle.


Why Menstruation Matters: tackling menstrual taboos in India

Photo: Volunteers at Restless Development, in Tamil Nadu.

The Circle member Shannon Hodge volunteered in rural village Thiruvalangadu in Tamil Nadu, India, for three months with youth-led development agency Restless Development, as part of the International Citizen Service, a global volunteering programme sending UK volunteers overseas to work with in-country volunteers. In Shannon’s placement community, she volunteered with six other UK volunteers and seven Indian volunteers, working on projects including livelihoods, health and menstrual health management.

In February 2018, the world’s first feature film addressing period poverty hit screens in India —and as I was working on a menstrual health project in one of South India’s rural villages at the time, the team and I went to see it.

The film is a fictionalised account of Padma Shri awardee (the fourth highest civilian award in India) Arunachalam Muruganantham, a school dropout from a poor family in southern India’s Tamil Nadu who revolutionised the manufacture of low-cost sanitary napkins for rural women.

Despite being an unlikely advocate for women’s menstrual health, Muruganantham’s story has opened up conversations across the country and the film’s themes are tackling many of the taboos long-engrained in Indian culture.

The film starts in 1998 when, discovering the dirty rag his wife used during her period, Muruganantham wanted to help. The rag was so dirty, he said, that he “wouldn’t even clean his scooter with it”, but to buy sanitary pads would mean sacrificing the family’s milk budget. As they couldn’t afford to buy them, he decided to make her one.

Due to not having the correct materials, it failed and despite begging his wife to try each new adaptation he made, she refused, leading him to look for other product testers.

However, due to the culture of silence and shame surrounding people openly discussing menstruation, the village found out about Muruganantham’s period project and he lost everything, including his family, home and wife.

Rather than giving up, he devoted the next twenty years of his life to inventing a simple machine to create low-cost sanitary pads. And what started as a selfless act of love for his wife’s health and safety turned into an enterprise that has helped millions of rural women in India.

Speaking to moviegoers afterwards, we heard lots of positive feedback, with both men and women saying it was: “very moving, thought-provoking and amazing to see what can come from such a small idea” and “it’s something everyone should see, as many villages are still facing these problems today”.

A woman who brought her nine-year-old daughter to the film also added: “My little girl came with me today as it’s such an important film and definitely worth seeing for girls like her. Everyone should see it”.

However, despite the feel-good ending of the film, the debilitating stigma and statistics surrounding menstrual health still exist today.

What is —and should be seen as— a normal biological process is viewed as impure. In fact, 70% of Indian mothers consider menstruation “dirty”— further perpetuating the culture of silence surrounding periods.

This is demonstrated in the film when Padman’s wife says: “For a woman, there is no bigger disease than shame”, as she admits that her husband openly talking about, making, and testing pads is worse than her getting a urinary tract infection from using her dirty cloth.

Like in the film, many women are still subjected to social, religious and cultural restrictions during their periods, which we learned more about when we held a female-only menstrual health management (MHM) session, made up of national and international volunteers.

We learned that activities such as worshipping in the temple, cooking, touching the water supply or even touching other people are forbidden for some girls during their periods. In many cases, girls are also made to eat separate meals and, though not as common today, some are made to sleep outside of the home in what are known as “menstruation huts”.

We also were told about the “entering into womanhood” ceremony which is held for some girls when they first start their period, to let the village know that they are “ready for marriage”. This is also something demonstrated in the film and something that I witnessed being advertised in the village where I stayed.

Once a girl has gone through the ceremony and starts having regular periods, she may also face difficulties at school gaining access to safe menstrual hygiene products and clean toilet and changing facilities.

In a study conducted by sexual and reproductive health and rights organisation, Rutgers, it was found that in rural India, 23% of girls listed menstruation as the chief reason for dropping out of school. And as many as 28% of them said they do not go to school during their period because they lack clean and affordable protection.

Compounded by the already high cost of pads, proper menstrual care remains out of reach for many rural women and girls in India. Without access to a basic cotton pad, many resort not only to rags but in some cases ash, newspaper and leaves.

When surveying women in the village of Thiruvalangadu, we had an aim to tackle the culture of silence around menstrual health management and research into ideas for a future income generation project.

Our findings showed that 25% of the women surveyed did not have access to sanitary pads, and despite the government having a scheme to provide free pads to girls between the ages of 10-19 in Tamil Nadu, we also found that 91% of women surveyed were offered no free menstrual hygiene products —and of the 9% who were, they weren’t given enough to see them through their monthly cycle.

Because of this, around two thirds of girls in India only change their menstrual cloths once daily. Women and girls using poor menstrual hygiene practices are 70% more likely to get a reproductive tract infection.

As part of our menstrual health management sessions at schools in the community, the team explained not only the biological process to young girls, but also worked with them to bust the myths surrounding periods and how they can manage their time of the month in the safest possible way —by really “pushing the pad” as a go-to product.

We also made the sessions a safe space where girls could ask questions anonymously throughout by posting them in a box and we would pick them out and answer them at the end of each session.

Working on menstrual health management projects with women and girls during my time in India really led me to look at how I can help within my own community, as period poverty is not only an issue overseas. In fact, in statistics published by Plan International, 1 in 10 girls have been unable to afford sanitary wear in the UK and 12% have had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues.

Since returning, I have made it my mission to find projects preventing period poverty in the UK —including The Red Box Project, which provides free sanitary wear in schools nationwide; Bloody Good Period, which gives menstrual supplies to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them in the UK, and Binti International, which has a mission to provide menstrual dignity to all girls, working on projects in India, Kenya, Swaziland, the US and here in the UK.

I’ve also located a local community project called Helping Homeless Women North East, where I’ve helped pack sanitary care packages which are handed out in homeless hostels and refuges across Newcastle.

If you don’t have time to volunteer but would like to put some money towards a cause preventing period poverty, then listen up… The incredible ladies at The Music Circle are raising funds for Irise International —an organisation educating girls on menstrual and reproductive health and making sanitary products available and affordable in their communities. Click here to learn more about the project and donate.

As Padman himself said: “Woman strong, mother strong, sister strong —then whole country strong”.

Written by @shanhodge.
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.


Widen Your Circle: with The Circle Member Dushy

Photo: Dushy and her family in Sri Lanka.

“Through The Circle I am being connected to like-minded women globally”

“Mix a tinge of your own style in whatever you do and stay unique” has been the mantra of Dusyanthi Rabinath, aka Dushy, born and bred in Sri Lanka. Possessing an academic qualification in Business Information Technology never was satisfying. Her real passion was Fashion Studies. Although she couldn’t finish her studies, her interest in fashion never faded and she has continued to update herself with the current happenings in the fashion world. She became interested in The Circle after learning about our work on the living wage in the fast fashion industry.

She says that the past five years have been well spent expanding her family with a loving husband and two adorable kids, who are her strength now. She believes it is the right time to come out from her comfort zone and look at the world from a different angle or maybe even envision a brand new world.

Widen Your Circle

The Circle members are women from all walks of life who come together to support some of the most marginalised women and girls across the globe.

Click here to become a member of The Circle and Widen Your Circle.


Feminist Calendar: May and June 2018

 

Our volunteer Anna Renfrew is back with her list of feminist fun and fabness.

1 May — Confrontation? Doing Feminist & Anti-Racist Work in Institutions (Cambridge)

How can we confront institutions about their role in perpetuating violence and work to make institutions more open and inclusive spaces?

This panel will explore some of the paradoxes and difficulties of doing feminist and anti-racist work within institutions. Even when institutions claim to be committed to equality they are often deeply unequal and hierarchical spaces. A feminist and anti-racist project is to transform the institutions in which we work. The aim of transforming institutions is still however an institutional project: we often have to work through the structures we seek to dismantle. When our political work is resourced or supported by an institution does it become more difficult to confront the institution? Does following procedures or working in house constrain the kinds of work we can do? If for strategic reasons we try to avoid confrontation what else are we avoiding? And how and why are some of us perceived as being confrontational however we are doing the work?

The panel will be a chance to talk from as well as about our experiences of doing feminist and anti-racist work. The panel will consider who does (and does not) do the work of trying to transform institutions and how these distributions of labour can reproduce inequalities, and will discuss the costs of doing (and not doing) this labour and reflect on how institutions can exhaust us and wear us out. The panel will open up a discussion of how we can confront problems of institutional racism, institutional sexism (including sexual harassment and sexual misconduct) as well as institutional bullying.

6 May — Our Mel x gal-dem: Whose Streets? Racialised Sexual Harassment (London)

gal-dem’s panel will explore women of colour and BME women’s experiences of street harassment: the ways in which this harassment is frequently laced or combined with racism and Islamophobia and how a culture of harassment fits into the wider spectrum of violence perpetrated against women because of their gender or perceived gender.

8 May — EmpowerHerVoice Presents: Comedy Festival (Oxford)

Empower Her Voice (EHV) is bringing you a comedy festival —a night of spectacular talent hosted by Verity Babbs.

This event will be raising money to fund scholarships for girls to attend the Sanjan Nagar school in Lahore, Pakistan. Book your ticket: all ticket sales will go towards funding the entire education (12 years) of ten young Pakistani girls.

8 May — All Female* DJ Workshop (Oxford)

There is a serious lack of female representation in the DJ scene. Only 10% of performers at music festivals around the world are female and an even smaller percentage of women are on music label rosters. The Oxford scene is no different.

Here, for Hugh’s Arts Week, students at Oxford University want to redress this imbalance in the Oxford DJ scene. We’ve got an incredible, exclusively female trio of DJs from Cuntry Living Magazine. They’ll teach all you gals the ropes.

Anyone who identifies either fully or partially as woman, or who has a complex gender identity that may include “woman” is very welcome!

8-18 May — Nevertheless, She Persisted Exhibition (Edinburgh)

This exhibition of work by Edinburgh-based photographer Mhairi Bell-Moodie highlights the stories of 25 women. The women involved have overcome child loss, domestic abuse, rape, self harm, body dysmorphia, suicide attempts, breast cancer, chronic illness and much more. The series acknowledges their struggles and celebrates their survival.

The exhibition is free and open to all at Out of the Blue daily from 10 am-5 pm.

Please be aware that the work contains subject matters which some may find upsetting.

23 May — It’s Only Blood (London)

Journalist and author of It’s Only Blood Anna Dahlqvist is in conversation with Gabby Edline, activist and founder of Bloody Good Period. Attend this event to learn more about issues of gender inequality facing women and girls due to the lack of essential sanitary products and education, which are perpetuated by social and cultural shaming. In her book, Anna tells shocking and moving stories of why and how people from Sweden, Bangladesh, Uganda and the USA are fighting back against the shame.

9 May — CL X Sisterhood: Funky Living (Oxford)

A CL X Sisterhood Oxford collab? A funk night platforming incredible female and non binary DJs? An opportunity to support feminist independent publishing while dancing? Summer vibe graphics?

Cuntry Living Zine is teaming up with Sisterhood Funk Band to bring you the night of your dreams. There will be tunes, moves and plenty of sweat. So get on down to The Cellar & funk up your life.

12 May — Pregnant Then Screwed (Manchester)

This “festival of motherhood and work” is aimed at women who have felt pushed out of their careers after having children, as well as those who are thinking about motherhood and want to be armed with some invaluable insights.
Sessions cover topics from flexi-working to knowing your legal rights (in case your boss doesn’t). Expect to learn from the funniest and most successful mums around.

14 May — Panel: Women and Climate Change (Oxford)

Climate change is a feminist issue. Women are disproportionately vulnerable to the environmental crises we face. This panel presents women working on the frontline of resistance. Judy Ling Wong OBE, ambassador for the Women’s environmental Network and founder of the Black Environmental Network, and Lisa Schipper, researcher at the Overseas Development Institute, will draw on their experiences in the field to address the crucial link between women and climate change.

19 May — Feminism & Tech: Feminist AI? (London)

The Feminist Library will be hosting an event on the place of feminism in tech! This time round they’ll be talking AI from a feminist perspective —they’ll be asking questions like: what does feminist AI look like? Is it possible to have feminist AI? They’ll be opening the evening with a couple of films on the topic and then welcoming speakers from academia, activism and filmmaking, with a range of perspectives on feminism and AI. The panel will include inspiring women from Commons Co-Creation Platform, Code Liberation Front / Goldsmith’s University London, Ada-AI and the Feminist Library.

They are inviting you to join the discussions, watch feminism & AI films with us and hear feminists who work in this area shine a light on it from a range of perspectives. It will be a relaxed evening of interesting screenings and discussions, with drinks and snacks available to make your evening even more enjoyable.

27 May — The Empower Project AGM (Edinburgh)

The Empower Project are having their first ever AGM and there’s going to be pizza! Get your ticket for a zine making workshop to make their annual report, speakers & food.

The Empower Project is an NGO based in Scotland working on creative ways to tackle gender-based violence and online abuse. This year they have already co-hosted a decoding event with Amnesty International to take down #ToxicTwitter and held discussion groups and training sessions and put on a feminist disco! The best part is you can be a member for just £1! “Come for the pizza! Stay for the smashing of the patriarchy!”

28 May — Menstrual Hygiene Day

Menstrual Hygiene Day is “a global platform that brings together non-profits, government agencies, the private sector, the media and individuals to promote Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM)”. At The Circle we’re focussing on #MenstruationMatters throughout May. The Music Circle are planning a Night Walk through London to raise awareness about Menstruation Matters and raise funds to support young women and girls who do not have access to sanitary products or reproductive health education. If you would like to sponsor them, please click here.

1 June — The Guilty Feminist (London)

Join comedian Deborah Frances-White for her comedy podcast, recorded in front of a live audience.
In each episode Deborah and her guests discuss their noble goals as 21st century feminists and the paradoxes and insecurities which undermine them. The podcast has been a huge success with over 10,000,000 downloads since it started at the beginning of last year.

2-3 June — Artists & Activists: Second Wave Feminist Filmmakers (London)

The Women’s Movement of the 1970s empowered women to step behind the camera in larger numbers. Their pioneering work platformed voices, stories and issues previously ignored or misrepresented.

The ground-breaking directors highlighted in this series made films outside the mainstream industry, frequently through activist film cooperatives and collectives. Their work was screened in “consciousness-raising” groups, at political conventions and in other alternative venues, and was often intended to spark discussion and action on women’s issues.

These films offered alternate visions to the mainstream, introducing subjects of interest to women and reshaping how films were made in ways that continue to be influential. Through cinema vérité, animation, experimentation and autobiographical techniques, such as images from dreams and entries from diaries, a new cinematic language was forged to capture a shared experience.

10 June — PROCESSIONS (Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London)

The Suffrage movement was the start for many positive changes for women in the 20th Century. Now in 2018 we commemorate the past as we continue to advocate for change. Members of The Circle are committed to amplifying the voices for the most marginalised women and girls to ensure they are empowered by lasting change in the global movement for gender equality. On 10 June PROCESSIONS will be taking place in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London.

PROCESSIONS is a celebratory mass participation artwork to commemorate the centenary of the women’s right to vote in the UK.

Some members of The Circle will be attending the event. Email us at hello@thecircle.ngo if you would like to join them.

29 June — Hotline @ Nice N Sleazy (Glasgow)

Hotline, Edinburgh’s resident female and non-binary DJ night, is moving to Glasgow! Hotline creates safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ people and will continual to do so in Glasgow. Great tunes and great people!

Until 31 August — At Last! Votes for Women! (London)

This exhibition at LSE features archive items and objects from the Women’s Library collection —including banners, sashes, badges and much more— to show the campaign methods of the three main groups for women’s suffrage: the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). It concentrates on the last (and often bitter) years of the long campaign of the struggle for women’s right to vote from 1908 to 1914, with the inclusion of prison diaries and leaflets detailing tactics, such as “rushing” the House of Commons.

 

 

 

 

Written by @AnnaRenfrew. Anna is a student at The University of Edinburgh and a volunteer at The Circle.