Menstruation, Human Security & Privilege – Fieldwork Experiences with Femme International

From experience, I have learned to give a brief definition of my field before elaborating why it is relevant in any context. The general ideas of Human Security have been around for a while but as a concept, it was made popular by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 1994. Its two main aspects are ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom from fear’ and the UNDP defines its purpose as ensuring that ‘people can exercise choices safely and freely – and that they can be relatively confident that the opportunities they have today are not totally lost tomorrow.’ It is an approach that focused on the individual rather than the nation state and consists of seven security dimensions that are all interconnected: Economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security. In an ideal – and unfortunately rather utopian – world, a balance of these dimensions would lead to a peaceful, stable and safe existence of all people and societies.

Although my research focus is the connection between financial (in-)security and MHM practices, my time here has taught me that connections between menstruation and all seven dimensions exist and that the surrounding cultural context is key to understanding the challenges that are a daily reality for many.

For some Human Security dimensions like environmental security, the connection to MHM is easily made: In Tanzania, trash is often disposed by burning it on the side of a road and adequate incinerators to dispose of menstrual health products correctly, do not exist.

Health security is another dimension that shows an obvious connection to MHM issues. Many WASH facilities are neither safe nor clean and the lack of access to safe MHM products leads to girls using pieces of cloth, toilet paper, gaze or extremely unsafe options like cow-dung to manage their periods. Whilst MHM products are in direct competition with other household goods, the use of those products is not only due to financial insecurities, but also connected to a variety of myths and a deep suspicion towards ‘Western’ products like disposable pads or tampons.

Many of the myths surrounding menstruation here are connected to personal security and community security and lead to exclusion of women and girls in a variety of ways. The most extreme example is the fear that contact with, or the sight of menstrual-blood could accidentally give people cancer, incapacitate them, curse them, make them infertile or kill them. Other myths are less dramatic but can have an equally excluding impact on the lives of people who menstruate. They are expected to not touch vegetables, fruit or water, not allowed to add salt to the meal they cook, they are refused the entrance to religious spaces, expected to not wash their hair whilst they bleed or follow extreme hygiene rituals – the list is long. One of the most damaging misconceptions in my opinion, is the assumed connection between the onset of menstruation and sexual maturity. Instead of explaining what is happening to their bodies, girls are merely taught to be ‘careful’, in other word, not to get pregnant. The attempt of managing their periods in a dignified way, for example by counting the days of their cycle, often leads their parents to the suspicion that they want to find their ‘safe days’ and have started engaging in sexual activities.

Katja with students at Ghona Secondary School in Tanzania

During my time with Femme, I have realized how little my own menstrual cycle impacts my life and my choices in comparison to many menstruating people living in countries of the Global South. In the words of one of my newly found friends in the Kili Hub: ‘I am in a privileged position as a menstruator’ – especially here. Nevertheless, we should not overlook that the stigma and problems surrounding menstruation are global and only enhanced in certain contexts.

Katja Brama

Introducing our YouTube channel!

Welcome to 2017!

Have you made any resolutions for yourself this year? Our team has set several goals for ourselves, as a way of keeping us motivated. This year, we want to reach 12,000 women and girls with the Feminine Health Empowerment Program across East Africa, and conduct important research about menstrual health and hygiene. One of our main goals is to find new and innovative ways of delivering menstrual health education across East Africa. This includes busting myths, breaking taboos and starting an important conversation about women’s health.

Another goal of ours is the launch of our brand new YouTube channel! We will be sharing videos from the field to show you our work and impact in East Africa, as well as short videos to introduce our team to you.

As part of our New Years resolution to deliver menstrual health education, our Tanzanian team will be sharing what they knew about menstruation before they started working for Femme. This is the first video in a series of Q&A videos with our team based in Moshi.

What did you know about menstruation before your first period?

This season, we are thankful for you.

Dear friends,

It is that time of year again, where we start thinking about holiday plans and family gatherings. With the holidays fast approaching, it is the season to give thanks and take a moment recognize the people that make our life special. And this year, we want to express our thanks to you!

2016 was an exciting year for Femme International. It was a year of major growth, milestones and expansion. We became a registered International NGO in Tanzania, launched a research department, built new partnerships and expanded our team to 13 full-time staff in Kenya and Tanzania.

But most importantly, we directly impacted over 6,000 women and girls by providing them with essential health education and Femme Kits.

We believe that an empowered woman is the most effective catalyst for sustainable change. We believe that all women have the right to manage their bodies with dignity. We believe that strong and health women can and will change the world.

Ever since our very first pilot project back in 2013, there has been a common theme among the women we have reached. A common word that women in Kenya and Tanzania have used to describe their experiences. That word is free. Femme is helping women feel free by empowering them to feel in control of their bodies and by removing the financial burden of menstruation.

We want to make sure that every woman and girl in East Africa has the opportunity to feel this freedom, which is why we have laid out big goals for 2017. We want to bring the Feminine Health Empowerment Program to 10,000 women and girls across Kenya and Tanzania. This means 10,000 Femme Kits distributed to support the education program. 10,000 women and girls who are taught to feel confident in their bodies, every day of the month.

But we can’t do this alone. We need to draw on the support of our community to help us achieve our goals. We invite you to become a part of our journey and make a contribution this holiday season that will go directly towards empowering women and girls in East Africa. When you donate a Femme Kit, you are giving a woman the gift of freedom, confidence and dignity.

We have just launched our annual Holiday Giving Campaign, which allows you to make a donation in honour of a loved one. When you do, they will be sent a thank-you card that explains the difference they have made in the life of a young woman. This season, give the gift of confidence.

On behalf of the entire team at Femme International, I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to everyone who has helped us reach our goals. Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season!

Sincerely,

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Sabrina Rubli
Executive Director

 

Have You Voted Today?

Adobe and TechSoup Canada are hosting a contest where Canadian non-profits and charities can win cash for their cause.

Femme International has made a submission and we need your support! Here’s how you can help:

  1. Vote for Femme International every day until the contest closes at the end of November
  2. Share the link with friends, family, and colleagues via social media
  3. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates about our organization and our work

With your help, we’ll continue to empower young women and girls, every day of the month.

 

Ten feminists to admire on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day! Today is a day to celebrate the incredible achievements of women around the globe. Women are the backbone of society, and they are the key to a successful and just future.
In honour of International Women’s Day, we are highlighting ten women who inspire us daily in their actions and words and legacies. 

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Maya Angelou Author, Civil Rights Activist, Poet (1928–2014)
Maya Angelou is a poet and award-winning author known for her acclaimed memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her numerous poetry and essay collections.
Maya overcame a troubled childhood to enjoy great success on the stage as a young performer, and soon as a celebrated play write.  Her 1972 drama, Georgia, Georgia, became the first screenplay produced by an African American woman. She was nominated for a Tony Award two years later. Despite her acting successes, it was her writing that moved her to international fame. Her 1969 memoir about her childhood and adolescence, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing”, was the first best-selling book by an African American woman. Her poetry won countless awards, including a Grammy for “On The Pulse of the Morning” and a Pulitzer nomination for her book “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die.” Maya Angelou was a passionate advocate for the rights of all humankind– and was an outspoken feminist.
“I’m a feminist. I’ve been female for some time now and I would be stupid not to be on my own side.”

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Writer
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award-winning Nigerian writer and speaker, most known for her novels and short stories, written largely about her home country of Nigeria.
Chimamanda was born and raised in Nsukka, Nigeria, where she studied at the University of Nigeria before moving to the United States to continue her studies at John’s Hopkins, and later at Yale. Her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and her second novel. Shortly after its publication, she encountered a Nigerian man who said that people were calling her a feminist, and advised her to never call herself a feminist, as they were unhappy women who were unable to find husbands.Chimananda has been outspoken on the topic of feminism, particularly in relation to women in Africa, and how these ideas fit into cultural systems. In her viral 2013 Ted Talk “We Should All Be Feminists”, she spoke about her experiences as an African feminist, and her anger at restrictive cultural and gender norms that shape who a person becomes.

“I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change, but in addition to being angry, I’m also hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better.”

Famously in 2013, parts of her speech were featured in Beyonce’s hit song “Flawless”, which has her voice featured in the track:

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller
We say to girls: “You can have ambition, but not too much
You should aim to be successful, but not too successful
Otherwise, you will threaten the man”
Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important
Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are
Feminist: a person who believes in the social

Political, and economic equality of the sexes”


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Malala Yousafzai, Activist
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for the education of women and girls, and is the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2014.
Malala has been an activist for education since a very young age in her home country of Pakistan. When Malala was 11–12, she wrote a blog post under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing how life was like for her under Taliban occupation, and her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. The following summer, a New York Times documentary was made about her life.Malala’s compelling story quickly gained international attention and she was soon giving speeches and interviews around the world. In 2012, she was shot in the head by the Taliban in an assassination attempt. Malala survived the attack, and it has only strengthened her resolve to fight for education.

By 2013, Malala had become a global advocate for the millions of girls being denied formal education because of social, economic, legal and political factors. She has launched the Malala Foundation to support the building and running of schools and education programs around the world. Her passion and commitment to girl’s education has propelled her into the spotlight and is recognized as one of the most influential women in the world.


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Aung San Suu Kyi, Politican, Activist
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese politician and President of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her political activism.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s political career began when she spoke out against the Burmese dictator U Ne Win in the late 1980s. She had just returned to Burma after years living abroad and was appalled at the state of her home country. She initiated a nonviolent movement for democracy and human rights. In 1989, the government placed Suu Kyi under house arrest, where she spent 15 of the next 21 years. In 1991, her ongoing efforts won her the Nobel Prize for Peace, and she was finally released from house arrest in November 2010. She has since gained a parliamentary seat with the National League for Democracy party. In the 2015 Myanmar General Election, the NLD, Aung San’s party, won a sweeping victory, taking 86 percent of the seats in the Assembly of the Union.Aside from being an outspoken political figure, Aung San has been passionate about ensuring women’s voices are heard in the political arena.

“I believe women play the more important part in our world because not only are they entering the professional world, they still remain the pillars of their homes and families. So I hope the menfolk in this audience will forgive me for speaking in favor of women–for speaking out in favor of women–because I think only a woman can understand the troubles, the problems, the discrimination that other women have to face. 

So, from this day onwards, until all the people in the world, particularly all the women in the world, are able to achieve their full potential, I hope we will be able to work together closely and in the true spirit of sisterhood.”


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Barbara Walters, Journalist
Barbara Walters has been breaking barriers her entire professional career. She began working as a journalist in the early 60s, and began broadcasting on-air in 1962. This was the era when women were given the so-called fluff pieces because no one thought a woman could be taken seriously to deliver newsworthy stories. But, within a year she had become a reporter-at-large developing, writing, and editing her own reports and interviews.
Not only was she the first ever female co-host on any news show (despite the fact that she was earning half of her male colleagues), but she went on to become the first female anchor of an evening broadcast for ABC News. She mediated a presidential debate in 1984.She became known for ‘personality journalism’, and her in-depth one-on-one interviews with prominent public figures, from politicians to actors, including Hugo Chavez, Margaret Thatcher, Muammar al-Gadaffi, Boris Yelstin, Katherin Hepburn, Michael Jackson and Anna Wintour.

Over her 50-year career, Barbara Walters has become one of the world’s most respected and admired journalists. She has broken down barrier after barrier for women in the professional setting and repeatedly shattered the glass ceiling. “She arrived at a time when the thinking in this business was that the man is the king of the desk and that the woman is more or less a sidekick. Thankfully, that doesn’t exist anymore — and she helped to change it.”


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Gloria Steinem, Writer, Activist
Gloria Steinem might be one of America’s most recognized feminist icons. She helped to build and lead the feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s.
As a young journalist in New York City, Gloria developed a reputation for writing about women’s rights. Her first pieces discussed the injustice of forcing women to choose between a family and a career, and the way that women were systematically treated in the workforce. An avid traveler, Gloria spent many of these early years living on the road, and speaking to women across America. By speaking in schools and community groups, she was able to learn new perspectives and mobilize women from all backgrounds.In 1968 she helped to launch New York Magazine, where she worked as a political columnist, and in 1972, she went on to co-found the feminist themed Ms. Magazine. She has co-founded numerous women’s organizations across the USA, including the Women’s Action Alliance, Women’s Media Center, Voters for Choice, and the Ms Foundation for Women. She has been awarded with numerous awards for her writing and activism. Her most recent book, My Life on the Road is the first pick of Emma Watson’s feminist themed book club Our Shared Shelf.

Gloria Steinem is one of the worlds most recognized feminists and has contributed in significant ways to gender equality. As a life-long feminist organizer, Gloria has created platforms for women of all ages and backgrounds to express themselves and demand respect and recognition.

“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”


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Wangari Maathai, Activist, Environmentalist, Humanitarian.
Wangari Maathai was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands, and dedicated to life to activism and environmental protection, all the while breaking down barriers and going where no woman had gone before. Wangari became on of the first Kenyan women to obtain a Masters Degree, the first to obtain a PhD, and the first female faculty of the University of Nairobi. Along the way, Wangari had to battle for everything, including her right to have a voice in politics, serving as a Member of Parliament for many years. She was an active and outspoken advocate for democracy against the Moi Regime of the 1970s, getting arrested multiple times for her actions.
In 1977, she launched a grassroots feminist movement to counter the deforestation that was destroying the subsistence means of the agricultural population of her homeland. The foundation of the movement was to mobilize and empower women to plant trees. The Green Belt Movement grew quickly across East Africa, and led to the planting of over 30 million trees.

In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Price for her incredible contributions to humanitarian work around the world.

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Alice Walker, Author, Poet
Alice Walker has become one of the world’s most celebrated African American writers, and is most widely known for her novel The Colour Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. Alice grew up in segregated Georgia, and her experiences as a young girl during these times was one of her main influences in her writing.
Alice coined the term womanism as a reaction to her realization that the term “feminist” often did not encompass the perspectives of Black women. She has spent her entire adult life as a passionate advocate, and is a staunch defender of human rights. In the early 1960s, Martin Luther King inspired her to return to the South and work as a civil rights activist. She registered Black voters in Georgia and Mississippi, and took part in the Washington March in 1963.Alice Walker is one of the world’s most prolific writers and passionate activists. She continues to travel the world to stand alongside the poor, the economically, spiritually, and politically oppressed. She stands on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation in the world.


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Emma Watson, Actor, Humanitarian
Emma Watson might have found her fame playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise, but she is quickly building a powerful reputation as a formidable feminist.
In 2014, Emma became the spokesperson for the UN funded campaigned He for She, where she boldly stood up and called men to the table in the gender equality conversation. Since then, she has been the UN Ambassador for UN Women – a role she has taken very seriously, and has become more and more outspoken about women’s rights and gender equality. In 2016, Emma said she was taking a year off from acting to explore feminism, and pledged to read at least one book a week.Her passion for learning and reading and speaking to women from around the world has inspired a new generation of young women to speak up and explore the issues.


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Mary Wollstonecraft, Writer (1759 – 1797)
Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the original feminists. After surviving an abusive upbringing, Mary dedicated herself to her writing. In 1792 she published “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, her most famous work. She discussed the ideas of gender equality in the home and workplace, and demanded educational reform that gave women and girls the same opportunities as men and boys. Her views were truly revolutionary for her time and caused great controversy.
Despite her powerful writings, her social life received more attention than her books until the 20th century, particularly her two daughters born out of wedlock. (Her second daughter, Mary Shelley, went on to write Frankenstein.) But the growing feminist movement at the turn of the 20th century, Mary’s ideas of women’s equality and her critiques of conventional femininity became increasingly significant in the battle for gender equality.Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and work as important influences.


Groove: Reproductive Health Education for All

I remember so clearly my first day back at school after I started my very first period. I was incredibly uncomfortable with my “new” body, so I wore the baggiest clothing I could find in my closet. I hated wearing a pad (it made me feel like a baby wearing a diaper), and I wasn’t quite sure how often I should change it. I couldn’t concentrate in class, and I was convinced that the rest of my classmates would somehow figure out that I had gotten my period (they didn’t).

I knew very little about periods or why women get them. I remember my mom talking to me about them—how they are a “normal” part of becoming a woman. But aside from the fact that having my period meant that I could now have babies (which was the last thing on my mind as an 11-year-old-girl), the only things I really knew about my period were that it caused me a lot of pain and embarrassment. Starting my period definitely didn’t feel the way that I had always imagined becoming a woman would feel. And, unfortunately, my experience is not an isolated one.

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My first experience with menstruation left a sour taste in my mouth. I grew up thinking that my body was my enemy. On top of that, society made me feel as though I needed to do everything in my power to hide the fact that I was bleeding each month. As a result, I struggled all throughout adolescence with low self-confidence, poor self-esteem, and a negative body image. And, like many other girls and women, these issues ended up following me into my adult life.

It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I learned how the menstrual cycle actually works, and it happened entirely by accident. But once I got sucked in, there was no going back. I completely immersed myself in learning about female sex hormones hormones, how those hormones interact to create the menstrual cycle, how the menstrual cycle is linked to reproductive and hormonal health, how my lifestyle can affect the regularity (or irregularity) of my cycles, and how tracking physical symptoms like basal body temperature and cervical fluid secretions can support good bodily health. With all of this information, I finally felt a connection with my body that my teenage years had been lacking. I had finally found the missing puzzle piece, and it brought with it a feeling of self-confidence that I had never experienced. I immediately knew it was my purpose to help other women discover that very same confidence.


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I started my company, Groove, as a vessel to carry out my mission. I want to help girls and women feel a sense of agency when it comes to their reproductive health, and I want to help break down the stigmas surrounding sex and menstruation. That’s why we built the Groove – Period & Fertility Tracker app and why we provide free reproductive health information on our website. It’s also why we have several other amazing projects in the works. No woman deserves to be deprived of information that has the power to transform the way she thinks about her body. I want to prevent others from feeling way I once did about my period: confused, ashamed, scared, and embarrassed.

Education is the foundation of Groove, because I know first-hand the life-altering effects it can provide. Our mission is to empower women with knowledge about their menstrual cycles so that they can spend their time worry about things in life that really matter—doing well in school, keeping their bodies healthy, following their dreams, and changing the world around them for the better—and not worrying about a potential pregnancy, what’s going on inside their bodies, whether their cycles are normal and healthy, and whether they can attend school.

PictureScreenshots from the Ready to Groove App! 10% of all sales of the app will be donated to the Feminine Health Management Program.

We’ve helped tens of thousands of women already, but it’s important to me that we’re always asking ourselves “What else can we be doing to help?” I truly believe that education is a fundamental human right, and I want the company I’ve built to fully embody that belief in everything we do. It simply wouldn’t feel right not to donate a portion of Groove’s hard-earned money to help support causes that change the lives of girls and women across the globe. That’s why partnering with Femme International feels like the perfect next step in our journey as an organization.

I’m excited to witness Groove’s partnership with Femme develop, and I’m humbled by the impact that our donations can make in women’s lives. No girl should ever have to give up her education because of her body, and we’re honored for the chance to play a small part in helping Femme eliminate that decision from the lives of girls in East Africa.

Jennifer Aldoretta is the cofounder and CEO of Groove, an Austin-based women’s health company and makers of the Groove – Period & Fertility Tracker app for iPhone. She is a menstrual health expert and author who is passionate about the intersection of technology and women’s health.

An Interview with Kiran Gandhi

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Kiran Gandhi made headlines around the world earlier this month when she ran the London Marathon while on her period, choosing to bleed freely instead of use a tampon. In the process, she stood up for women around the world who are so often silenced during their cycles, and inspiring women around the world to start talking openly about their periods. Her actions brought much needed attention to a taboo subject, and helped start a global conversation about menstruation. She certainly inspired Femme’s team!

I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Kiran Gandhi and ask her a few questions about her experience!


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1. What went through your mind when you woke up the morning of the marathon to discover your period had started?

I got my flow the night before the London Marathon and it was extremely painful. It would be my first marathon and I remember already feeling so nervous for it. I had spent a full year enthusiastically training hard, but I had never actually practiced running on my period.

I thought through my options. Running 26.2 miles with a wad of cotton material wedged between my legs just seemed so absurd. Plus they say chaffing is a real thing. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was lucky to have access to tampons etc, to be part of a society that at least has norm around periods. I could definitely choose to participate in this norm at the expense of my own comfort and just deal with it quietly.

But then I thought, If there’s one person society can’t eff with, it’s a marathon runner. You can’t tell a marathoner to clean themselves up, or to prioritize the comfort of others. On the marathon course, I could choose whether or not I wanted to participate in this norm of shaming.

2. Why was this an issue you wanted to bring attention to?

Because when you can’t talk about your own body normally, other people can use it to make fun of you. If you can’t talk about your own body, you don’t receive proper knowledge about your own body (e.g. Runnersworld, the well know running mag, only just now put out a piece about menstrual running facts, and they consulted doctors. http://www.runnersworld.com/run-matters/your-midrace-period-questions-answered ). More of those pieces should have been written and they should be as common knowledge to women as how to brush your own teeth. But they aren’t, and to me, that’s a problem. 


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3. How did it feel to run the marathon while free bleeding?

It felt epic. It was the right choice because if you look at my time – we ran the entire marathon consistently, at the same pace from start to finish without stopping. My body didn’t have to worry about interference from a foreign object, or about chaffing, or about having to stop and start which would have been physically and emotionally deflating. Our bodies really had our back, and all of my training enabled us to run strong and finish the race together. 

4. There has been a lot of media attention since the marathon ended, did you expect this?

I could never have expected anything like this, but to me it has become rapidly clear that women around the world have wanted to talk about their own periods and finally had a focal point around which to do so. 

5. What do you hope to accomplish by making this statement?

I want to a) unearth the topic that periods exist, are currently taboo, and shouldn’t be for the aforementioned reasons, and b) use this conversation and gravity around the topic to then consider innovating solutions around periods both here and in developing nations. Moreover, I want to see reform in workplace and school environments whereby women can speak freely about their own discomfort and pain when they are experiencing it. Having to pretend like something doesn’t exist is oppressive. I really do believe that if men had their periods, it would be written into social norms, we’d know when they are in the work calendar, and it would be totally acceptable to postpone meetings or class if too many of the boys or men were experiencing their periods and in a lot of pain.


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6.  How can people get involved in your mission to break the taboo?

1) They can speak in their own communities more confidently about their own periods and bodies, so as to remove the shame of it and encourage other women to take charge and do the same.

2) They can look into incredible companies like SHE Innovates, THINX, Afripads or Saathi Pads – we have a list of partners in the works at the moment – and donate, volunteer or spread awareness about their work.
3) The most exciting one, is to innovate solutions, norms, and ideas that make women’s periods more comfortable for them and more socially acceptable for our communities, both in the western world and abroad!

Sabrina Rubli

5 Reasons Why We Believe Menstrual Cups are an Ideal Solution for Women in Developing Communities

Femme.Menstrual.Cup

Femme’s Feminine Health Management Program is all about ensuring that schoolgirls have the education and resources they need to manage their monthly cycles in a safe and effective way. The educational component works to provide a deeper understanding of their bodies, and break down the stigma that so often surrounds menstruation.

The distribution component of the program distributes Femme Kits that include reusable menstrual management supplies – namely menstrual cups! Menstrual cups are made out of surgical grade silicone, and are inserted into the vagina to collect, rather than absorb menstrual fluid. 

Menstruation is a huge reason why girls in developing communities miss school, often because they don’t have access to feminine hygiene products, and the alternative methods they resort to are ineffective. Femme distributes menstrual cups because we believe they are the best option for women. Here are a few reasons why:


1. SUSTAINABILITY: Unlike commercial sanitary pads, menstrual cups are reusable. Even better, they can be reused for up to 10 years! This means that women no longer need to spend their hard-earned income on buying sanitary products, and can use the money for things like school fees, shoes, and rent. Providing disposable sanitary pads is the definition of an ineffective band-aid solution: it will only help for one month. By providing menstrual cups, the FHM program is ensuring that these women are set for the next 5-10 years. 
2. ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY:  It is estimated that the average woman will use around 12,000 tampons in her lifetime – which takes up a lot of room in landfills around the world. In communities such as Nairobi’s Mathare Slum where there is no garbage collection, disposable sanitary supplies end up in the river and streets, causing major hygiene issues. Menstrual cups are easy to keep clean and safe. After her period is complete, it is simply boiled in water for 5 minutes before being put away until next month. In communities where access to potable water is a struggle, menstrual cups require much less than reusable pads. 
3. 12-HOURS OF PROTECTION: This might be the best part – menstrual cups provide 12 hours of comfortable, leak-free protection! So many girls we have spoken to told us that they would leave school in the middle of the day because their schools didn’t have appropriate latrine facilities, or they were teased for leaking. When inserted correctly, a vacuum seal is created which prevents any leaking. And it lasts for twelve hours. This means that girls are able to attend school or work without having to worry! They are able to feel in control of their bodies, which boosts their confidence, their academic performance, and helps them feel clean.
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4. HEALTHIER FOR A WOMAN’S BODY: Tampons and pads are actually filled with a lot of harmful toxins and dyes, which are not healthy for a woman’s body. Without access to safe menstrual management supplies, women will resort to alternative methods such as rags, leaves, tissues, even newspapers and mattress stuffing. Not only do these methods not work, but they are uncomfortable, and extremely unhygienic. They lead to yeast infections, UTIs, and other infections that can lead girls to the hospital. Menstrual cups are very hygienic to use, and help girls feel clean during their monthly cycle (so long as proper hand washing occurs!).
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5. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING: When we ask girls how they feel about the menstrual cup after a few months of use, the word that comes up the most often is “free”. They feel confident, and are able to participate in activities in and out of the classroom. They felt as though they were performing better in school, as they were better able to concentrate. They felt free. 
By distributing menstrual cups, Femme is providing a sustainable and safe alternative to young women. The FHM Program removes the financial burden of menstruation and helps girls feel in control of their bodies. 

Menstrual cups are an amazing option for all women! Visit Ruby Cup to see how you can begin using one today!

To donate a Femme Kit is to give the gift of confidence, and help keep a girl in school – every day of the month!



Note: Girls have the option of selecting either menstrual cups or reusable pads in their Femme Kits, to make sure they have the method that is the most comfortable for them.

Sabrina Rubli

The Importance of Latrines at Mangoto Secondary School

One of our guiding principles at Femme is collaboration, and working in partnership with organizations that share a common goal. For us, that means a lot of education and health-based organizations, but today we are talking about how architecture can affect positive change in a community.

Recently, we sat down the the team from C-re-a.i.d., an NGO based right here in Moshi, Tanzania! C-re-a.i.d. (Change -REsearch -Architecture -Innovation -Design) is a Tanzanian and Belgian registered nonprofit organisation that conducts research by design on the possibilities of architecture. This is accomplished by different branches of C-re-aid, including fieldwork, organizing construction, empowering local craftsmen and receiving students of architecture, interior architecture, engineering, product design.

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1. Tell us a little bit about C-re-a.i.d’s work in Tanzania!

C-re-aid seeks to understand what the possibilities of architecture – as a material and social change of cultural and socially meaningful design – can mean for people who are “vulnerable by material conditions”. Architectural interventions, as conducted by the organization, aim to have an impact through the process of a project and change the material environment. With these changes the organization strives to affect not only the physical, built environment but also the social environment, and by that, social health which includes self-esteem and self-respect.

C-re-aid hosts a group of international architects who put their heads together to create smart, modern and innovative designs. Special attention is given to the inventive use of local materials and specific building techniques to keep the cost of the building affordable.


Currently, C-re-a.i.d. is working in partnership with Anza International to build a block of latrines at Mangoto Secondary School – where Femme’s team has implemented both our Feminine Health Management Program and the Boys Health Management Program! This project will provide the school with appropriate and safe access to hygiene facilities for students and teachers. Having access to such facilities is an essential component to menstrual health & safety, and we are thrilled our beneficiaries will be receiving new toilets.

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2. Can you describe the state of the current toilet block at Mangoto?

The current toilet blocks at the school, although structurally intact, have several issues concerning security, privacy and hygiene that make an intervention necessary. The level of cleanliness is very poor, and since no running water is available at the toilets, children have to carry buckets from the nearby well. The quality of the water extracted from the well is another reason of concern since it is not potable and potentially unsafe.

Secondly, the current latrine pits are in severe conditions, with portions of them completely collapsed!

Thirdly, neither the block nor the individual cubicles have doors, seemingly because they have been stolen. This causes significant privacy and security concerns for both pupils and teaching staff, particularly female students.

Finally, no soap or hand washing facilities – e.g. sinks, taps or small tanks – are available inside or near the blocks.

These, together with other minor details, are the major issues that the new design had to face to improve the current conditions, for both boys and girls’ toilets.


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2. How was the girls’ toilet block designed? Who had input?

The design process for the toilets is based on several meetings in which different issues are dealt with and debated in a participatory way. We established a committee of students from all classes to represent the needs and wishes of the students in our planning meetings.

 During these meetings, we divided the students up by gender and had long discussions with them about their needs, and how they imagined the toilet block to look like. This process gives them ownership over the project to increase sustainability, and ensures that local needs are being met.

It was using this process that our team decided on the main floor plan of the toilet block, as well as the importance of a changing room for the female students.

With this information, C-re-aid started designing the blocks and presented the result in a final meeting to receive feedback and understand the reactions of the participants before finalizing the project and take it to the construction phase.


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3. What were specific requests made by the girls?

Throughout the different sessions, the main requests made by the girls regarded security, privacy and hygiene issues. Specifically, they asked for lockable doors, tap water and sinks to wash their hands and the floor, the use of a hard material for floors (especially easy to keep clean) and the provision of mirrors above the sinks. Moreover, they insisted that the location and the orientation of their block had to allow privacy from the rest of the school and especially from the boys’ toilets block.



4. What is the significance of having a changing room?

The changing room is fundamental to manage girls’ menstruation safely and hygienically. One of the issues with poor sanitation facilities is that girls don’t have a space to wash themselves, change their sanitary pads or dispose of them appropriately. For this reason, they often miss school during their menstrual period or have to carry the dirty pads all day long once removed. The changing room will be an additional separate space inside the toilets block, which will provide privacy and a tap for running water that will be used for washing purposes and to clean the pads if reusable. A trash bin will be also added so that disposable pads can be safely thrown away and collected weekly to be burnt.


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5. How do you think an appropriate toilet block will influence their experience?

For both boys and girls, an appropriate facility will provide a safe and clean space to go to the toilet and follow hygienic behaviors. This has direct effects on the experience, which will be more comfortable and feel more secure, thanks to the cleanliness, ventilation, absence of odors and flies, presence of doors and hand washing sinks that are included in the design. Furthermore, a proper sanitation facility can be used as an opportunity to reflect on hygiene practices and apply them correctly, providing an educational outcome apart from the more practical advantages discussed above. For girls in particular, the privacy that the toilets will provide, together with the availability of a changing room, will hopefully improve significantly the feeling of comfort and security and allow them to manage their menstrual period easily and hygienically.

Sabrina Rubli