Widen Your Circle: with The Circle Member Brianna

“It’s hard to forget the first time you got your period… it’s scary and uncomfortable enough, even when you have the privilege of knowing what it is and that you’ll be okay.”

Brianna is an Australian trained social worker currently “lucky enough to be working in the community sector around FGM”. She went into social work as she has always been passionate about human rights, social justice and empowerment. Brianna has become specifically drawn to feminist practice approaches and issues surrounding global gender inequalities and gender-based violence.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I moved to the UK 10 months ago, I’m a New Zealand citizen, and I have a social work background, currently working in the charity/community sector around FGM.

Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?

It seemed such an easy fit with my interests and passions, particularly the notion of Global Feminism and focusing on supporting the amazing work of existing grassroots organisations like Irise.

How are you involved with the upcoming Menstruation Matters event and what has that been like?

I have been lucky to spend time with Sophia and Jasbir planning what we would like the event to look like, who would be involed, where it would be held. It’s definitely been a new experience for me as I’ve never done event planning or fundraising – but I’m certainly learning a lot!

Why do you think the work of Irise International is so important?

It’s hard to forget the first time you got your period… it’s scary and uncomfortable enough, even when you have the privilege of knowing what it is and that you’ll be okay. I can’t imagine that ‘first time’ without access to such knowledge… and the reality is many girls both in the UK and Uganda don’t. Irise is enabling girls to have understanding, choice and control over their bodies and that is an absolute necessity. They are addressing an issue that has a powerful knock-on effect for girls’ education and future – and that’s what we’re all about!

If you would like to attend our Menstruation Matters event this month then book your ticket here. Events like this just wouldn’t happen without our wonderful members. They are truly the lifeblood of The Circle!

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism #WidenYourCircle #MenstruationMatters


Global Feminist Calendar May and June 2019

Image credit: Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image

13th April – 1st June – Women’s Words Exhibition (Glasgow)

This spring Glasgow Women’s Library are opening the door to women’s writing in their collections. From song lyrics and scribbles to plays and pulp fiction, you will have access to a plethora of women’s words in this fantastic exhibition.

8 May – To Exist is To Resist: Black Feminism in Europe (Edinburgh)

Motherhood and the home, friendships and intimate relationships, activism and community, literature, dance and film: These are spaces in which To Exist isTo Resist imagines a Black feminist Europe.

Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande’s have edited a brilliant collection bringing together activists, artists and scholars of colour to show how Black feminism and Afrofeminism are being practiced in Europe today.

They explore how women of colour across Europe are undertaking creative resistances to institutionalised inequalities, imagining radical new futures outside and against the neo-colonial frames and practices of contemporary Europe.

10 May – Not Bad for A Girl X Indigo: Girls Girls Girls (Manchester)

Not Bad For A Girl and Indigo Withington are teaming up to bring you the ultimate ladies night, where 100% of the designers, DJs, bar staff and security are women.

Not Bad For A Girl is a home-grown ethically-sourced collective of women who just want to have fun. Born from a shared love of music/events and hatred of gender inequality, they are a night out with the mission of equal opportunity, equal pay and equal parts spirit and mixer.

10 May – Herstories Festival (Manchester)

Get your ticket now to the forthcoming Herstories Festival, which will take place from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th May 2019 here at Stretford Public Hall.

The weekend-long festival of cultural activity will feature film screenings, workshops and a range of arts, all celebrating the history of women and social change in Manchester. Generously funded by Film Hub North and delivered in partnership with the North West Film Archive (NWFA), MACFEST, the Muslim Arts and Culture Festival, and the Stretford Arts Collective (SAC32).

11 May – #SheInspiresMe Car Boot Sale 2019 (London)

Women for Women International are hosting a one of a kind fashion extravaganza to support women survivors of war. Join top designers, style influencers and celebrities for an afternoon of eco-friendly, guilt-free shopping for a great cause. Numbers are limited – book early to secure your entry to the chicest car boot sale ever! Book your ticket now!

14 May – Laura Mulvey In Conversation: Feminist Film Curating (London)

This conversation will focus on the intervention and activism of feminist film curators seeking to challenge and rethink the canon, from a feminist and later queer feminist perspective, starting with some of Laura Mulvey’s interventions in this area back in the 1970s, and bringing the debate up to date via the work of B. Ruby Rich and contemporary initiatives such as Club des Femmes.

Participants: Laura Mulvey (Birkbeck), Clarissa Jacob (Royal Holloway), Janet McCabe (Birkbeck)

21 May – Staying with the Violence: Womb, Work and Family Abolition (London)

Full Surrogacy Now brings a unique perspective to debates around assisted reproduction, stemming from Lewis’ contention that all reproduction is assisted. Arguing for solidarity between paid and unpaid gestators, Lewis suggests that the struggles of workers in the surrogacy industry may help illuminate the path towards alternative family arrangements based on transgenerational caring relationships (or, ‘family abolition’, as it has been referred to by some utopian socialists and queer feminists). Interviewing paid surrogates alongside other gestational workers, Lewis breaks down our assumptions that children necessarily belong to those whose genetics they share, calling for the radical transformation of kinship and the institution of the family.

28 May – It’s Time for Action – A Celebration of Menstrual Hygiene (Sheffield)

For Menstrual Hygiene Day, Irise International are holding an event that will bring together charity workers, researchers, activists and supporters in South Yorkshire to share how we are taking action to create a world where no one is held back by their period.

This event is open to the public, so please come and join us to learn more about why menstruation matters and how you can take action.

Please email info@irise.org.uk if you would like to have a stall or to share your work or experiences.

29 May – Readers of Colour: GWL Women of Colour Bookgroup (Edinburgh)

Led by poet, writer and activist Nadine Aisha Jassat, the group meets in the bookshop on the last Wednesday of every month to discuss poetry, fiction, graphic novels, essays and narrative non-fiction by women writers of colour, with work by Scotland’s own makar Jackie Kay as well as writers from around the world including Fatimah Asghar.

Attendance is free, and the reading group is a great opportunity to meet new people, exchange and share conversations and ideas, and share passion for writing by women of colour.

30 May – Menstruation Matters (London)

The Music Circle and Circle members with a shared professional connection in healthcare are proud to be hosting an event in support of The Circle’s partner project – Irise International. This is an exciting opportunity to hear from Irise International’s Co-Founder Emily Wilson. We will also be screening the Oscar-winning documentary Period.End of Sentence to educate and inform our guests on the importance of access to knowledge and essential sanitary products in the global movement for gender equality.

Over the course of the evening, there will be the opportunity to find out a little bit more about the work that Irise does in both the UK and Uganda.

5 June – Under the Wire (London)

A powerful account of legendary Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy’s mission to Homs, Syria in February 2012. Their assignment was to cover the plight of trapped Syrian civilians under siege by their own government. Tragically, Colvin was killed when the international media centre was hit by Syrian Army artillery fire; despite being critically injured, Conroy had to a find way to make it out alive.

He is determined to continue telling the stories of the people he met during this assignment and their desperate situation caught in the middle of a conflict zone.

8 June – Let’s Talk About Contraception (London)

Doesn’t sound like your type of fun? Then you’re wrong.

This is a time to come together and celebrate the creation of Contraception Zine, but more importantly, to continue what we’ve started here. The event is aimed at bringing to light some more of the experiences and challenges folks have faced in dealing with, notably, female contraceptives – looking at the effects on body and mind that you weren’t necessarily warned about. Whether you’ve contributed, wanted to or you’re just curious as to how we will make this fun, then please come along!

There will be crafts, poetry, pictures, music and nearly definitely a pill themed cake.

If you have anything you would like to show and tell then please get in touch, there will be a gallery space and room to perform/project (contraceptionzine@gmail.com).

21 June – NUS Women’s Campaign X Abortion Support Network Fundraiser (London)

NUS Women’s Campaign host a night of music, poetry, readings, and short films at SOAS Students’ Union JCR in support of Abortion Support Network.

Abortion Support Network are a volunteer-led organisation providing accommodation and financial assistance to women forced to travel from Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man to access an abortion.

29 June – Feminist Anarchist Bookfair 2019 (Edinburgh)

This will be the second annual Edinburgh Anarchist Feminist Bookfair.  Bringing together talks, workshops and stalls from publishers and groups to educate and share. Don’t miss out on the opportunity for some anarchic reading for your Summer holiday!

There will be a free licensed crèche and talks and workshops throughout the day. Contributors and a timetable will be released closer to the event.

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpoweringWomen


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.


Events to attend in April to learn about the inequality issues The Circle is addressing

Photo credit: Judit Prieto | The Circle members at March 4 Women, London.

Inspired by the Feminist Calendars written by our fantastic volunteers, we wanted to put some additional external events for April onto your agenda. Events are a great way to meet other members and learn more about some of the issues we are addressing in our projects. If you are planning to attend any of these listed below, please email us at hello@thecircle.ngo so we can connect you with other members who are also interested in attending.

17 April — Walk Together to Fight Inequality, London

Issue: Inequality
Join The Elders, the Fight Inequality Alliance and the Atlantic Fellows for an event at LSE, London. The event is in honour of grassroot efforts around the world to address the inequality crisis and learn more about joining the #WalkTogether movement.

The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. It was set up in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu.

The Circle is committed to a guaranteeing a living wage for garment workers in the fast fashion supply chains. With Fashion Revolution Week taking place from 23-29 April, it’s the best time to brush up on your knowledge of The Circle’s Living Wage Project. Being informed about the fast fashion industry allows understanding of the greater context in which financial inequality for women and girls is perpetuated within fast fashion supply chains.

Here are some events being run by fellow members to help you be better informed:

22 April — We-Resonate Launch Event, London

We-Resonate is an ethical fashion brand founded by one of our inspiring members, Lizzie Clark, that will be launching on World Earth Day, 22 April, from 4 pm-8 pm.

28 April — How to Dress Ethically: CHANGE is SIMPLE and we’ll show you how, Online webinar

Another incredible member of The Circle and Founder of Enchanted Rebels, Lianne Bell, will be hosting and co-hosting a series of live events on Facebook, including Dress Ethically. She will be joined by ONE SAVVY MOTHER for a live Facebook event that aims to bring you closer to the people who make your clothes. They’ll be sharing their own experiences and answering your questions!

28 April — What the Hell is Greenwashing? Online webinar

The Circle member Lianne Bell will be having a good old chinwag with Ethical Fashion Blogger Tolly Dolly Posh about greenwashing. Lianne is based in Taiwan, but the chat will be taking place online at 15:30 UK time.

Written by Peta Barrett.

Peta is a member of The Circle since 2016 and The Circle Relationship Manager since 2017.