Your period started today. Your head hurts, your body aches, and you just bled through your favorite pair of pants. You don’t have any underwear and, worse, enough money to purchase pads or tampons. Most of your friends are in the same boat. You might not talk about it but you know what’s going on because each month around the same time, they are absent from school and work. Every so often, a girl you know is gone for more than a few days–you overhear that she is ill, something about a painful infection, and you worry that she might not return at all. You begin to hate your period. “If this is what it is to be a woman,” you think to yourself, “I want out!” You long for the carefree days of girlhood: before dirty pants, bloody thighs, and missing out on the activities you love–and need–most. Every time you stay home from school, you fall so far behind that you wonder if you should keep going at all. When you miss work, your whole family feels it and you wonder if they resent your womanhood, too. Thanks to your period, you must work even harder to make your wages last the whole month.
What’s a young woman to do? Organize!
The story I share with you today is not my own and, if you grew up in a place with easy access to running water, affordable feminine supplies, and comprehensive health education, it probably isn’t yours, either. Yet, despite the contrasts between our stories of menstruation and those of millions of women in developing countries across the world, our blood is also a tie that binds and brings us together, which is why I have decided to partner with Faith Odhiambo and the young women of Girls Shift Africa in Mombasa, Kenya to support them as they organize to find solutions to their pressing menstrual hygiene problems.
If you haven’t yet met Faith, please take a moment to read her recent interview as an Awesomepreneur We Love. After finding each other through mutual friend and activist Benjamin Odera of the Fanya Mambo Foundation, Faith and I spent the autumn getting to know each other, swapping stories about our organizing efforts in Kenya and Mexico, and laying the foundation for the Awesomepreneur collaboration I am proud to announce today.
My partner Roberto and I will be traveling to Kenya in mid-2013 to work with Faith and the inspiring young people of YOUth Shift Africa, with a special focus on the young women ages 11-15 that Faith leads as part of her passion project, Girls Shift Africa. Our goal is to design an arts education program that allows Faith to integrate new strategies in her work with women, creating a platform for her friends and collaborators to share their stories, empower themselves, and address issues that are important to them, like menstrual hygiene and women’s health. I am thrilled to lend a hand as a YOUth Shift Awakeneer and learn alongside Faith, as I share some of the techniques I have developed in my theater work with Las Jades y El Cielo of Chalchihuitán, México.
Faith and I will be writing about the planning process as we create our strategic plan for this exciting project and we are kicking it off with a fundraising campaign to raise money for our first pilot project with Ruby Cup: a healthy, high quality and long-lasting menstrual hygiene product made of 100% FDA approved medical grade silicone that can be re-used for up to 10 years. (Ever heard of a Diva Cup or Moon Cup? Same thing! Only the Ruby Cup is based in Kenya and the organization partners with local women to help them become financially independently while also sharing a healthy, sustainable menstrual hygiene solution with their friends, families, and neighbors. I’ve been using my Diva Cup for 5 years and I absolutely love it!)
With your help, we can provide Faith and her task force of Girls Shift leaders with Ruby Cups made locally in Kenya. But it doesn’t stop there! Because we realize the Ruby Cup is only one of many possible solutions to improving menstrual hygiene in Kenya, Faith will also be leading workshops, guided discussions, and brainstorming sessions with her fellow Shifters to keep the conversation going and explore alternatives along the way. Our dream is to expand this discussion to include women all over the world, starting with the young women I have the honor to work with in Chalchihuitán, providing opportunities for dialogue and exchange between women in different countries and cultures.
Not only do we hope to help young women avoid absences from school and work as well as menstrual-related infections and health issues, we plan to use this project as a springboard for enhanced women’s health education in the communities where Faith works and begin to destigmatize menstruation so that Faith and her friends may talk freely about their bodies and feel comfortable discussing and exploring all types of solutions.
You can donate quickly, easily, and safely through Paypal right now!
Now seeking Awakeneers: We are seeking five women from around the world–artists, educators, thought leaders, activators–to partner with us and join us in Mombasa later this year as YOUth Shift Awakeneers! If you are interested in being directly involved in this important project, contact Naraya Urban-Winterfeldt at YOUthShiftAfrica (at) Gmail dot com.
For more information on the importance of menstrual hygiene around the world, I highly recommend this comprehensive resource by WaterAid, Menstrual Hygiene Matters. It is a fabulous resource that has been invaluable to me as I educate myself on women’s health in different countries, as well as local, sustainable solutions!
Why are we kicking off this project in December? While I realize that many people around the world do not celebrate Christmas, in my own life, the winter holiday season has always been a time of giving and receiving gifts and thus, each year at this time, I ask family and friends to forego traditional gifts and honor me by donating to a social project that is close to my heart. Last year, you helped my co-director Raquel take her first big trip to Xela, Guatemala for the 2nd Latin American Reunion of the Theatre of the Oppressed! It was a great success and, one year later, Raquel continues to grow and flourish with big things coming up on the horizon. (For more on Raquel and updates on our work together with the women of Chalchihuitán, check out my art + activism blog, RKA in LA.)
December is only the beginning! We will have plenty more opportunities for you to get involved and support Girls Shift Africa throughout the year, but hope you will consider making a contribution this month so we can kick off our first pilot project in early January! Thank you, from our hearts to yours.