By the end of this year, all B.C. schools will have to provide free menstrual tampons and pads for students.
The announcement begins to end a prejudice that seems to have been around as long as civilization. The Bible, an authority for three world religions, considers menstruating women unclean. They must be segregated. Anita Diamant built that exclusion into her best-selling book, The Red Tent.
Half of human population have, or have had, menstrual periods. Yet it remains a taboo subject.
TV ads for feminine hygiene products never show blood. Based on advertising, you’d think women bled blue.
Although most schools do make pads and tampons available for emergencies, “many young women feel awkward asking for menstrual products at a school office,” said Rebecca Ballard, a Grade 11 student in the New Westminster school district. She called the government decision “progress towards eliminating the taboo nature of menstruation. This is something all young women go through and should never feel bad about."
New Westminster was the first district to endorse free feminine hygiene products in washrooms. Their approval, said chair Mark Gifford, “reflects some of the stigma around periods and menstruation.”
And if that’s the situation in Canada, imagine what it must be like in more traditional countries like Uganda.
The period problem
Erika van Oyen went to Uganda in 2008 as a volunteer. She quickly realized that many girls got short-changed on their education. Unable to afford disposable sanitary supplies – indeed, often unable even to afford underpants – they missed a week of schooling every month.
“Before we started this program,” van Oyen says, “schools taught about women’s biology, about menstrual cycles. But a girl in her period is ridiculed. Teased if she soils her clothes. Humiliated. So they stay away. They fall behind in their classes, and eventually they drop out.”
The same happens in Canada, to a lesser extent.
van Oyen’s solution was pads that could be used, washed, and used again. She started making menstrual kits based on the Days for Girls model: eight pads, two shields, two pairs of underpants, two Ziploc bags and a facecloth. Four of the pads are made in Uganda, by local people, using local materials. Four are sewn in Canada, along with the panty liners, because the special waterproof fabric is not available in Uganda.
van Oyen and her mother have organized sewing bees here in Kelowna. Up to 35 women and men meet monthly to make up pads and liners.
The Kelowna group has been busy all winter. “We have almost 1500 kits ready now, and I hope to have 2,000 to take with me this summer,” says van Oyen.
Making a change
Over the last ten years, she has distributed kits to about 6,000 girls.
That’s an infinitesimal fraction of Uganda’s 25 million female population. But it’s having an effect. Wherever van Oyen has led sessions, school absenteeism is down. “The girls are using the kits,” van Oyen says. “Some share their kits with girls who were not able to come to our training sessions.”
She and her volunteers – who all pay their own way -- do a lot of teaching. Uganda has rescinded its former ban on sexual education, but there is still no program to teach teachers how to teach students about their maturing bodies.
“A large part of our work is education to prevent pregnancies,” says van Oyen. “So we teach women how to know when they are fertile. We promote abstinence first — providing menstrual supplies and sex education is NOT promoting sex. But if it’s going to happen, we want it to be safe sex, in a healthy relationship.
“That means learning what consent means. No means no. Girls need to know that they can say no. Even to adult men, in a male-dominant society.
“If they’re going to say no, they need to say it loud and strong. And men and boys need to learn that only yes means yes. Corey [Erika’s husband] talks with the boys about why they get horny, and why it’s still wrong to force sex on a girl.
“Consent is not just the absence of No.”
In modern Africa, van Oyen adds, women do all the work. They fetch the water. They do the cooking and cleaning. They look after the children. “So it’s important for girls to learn that they can be in control of their lives.”
To raise funds for continuing this work this summer in Uganda, van Oyen’s charitable foundation ISEE International (www.iseesolutions.org)is currently fund raising. For more information, write firstname.lastname@example.org
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Last week’s column was actually about politics, but I used the cliché of a string of clichés to explore it. And I challenged readers to identify the right number of clichés used in the column. The answers ranged from 7 to 22. The correct answer was 18. At least, that was my answer, and sinceI wrote the column, my answer has to stand as the right one.
If anyone is really interested, I can send you a coply of the column with the clichés highlighted.
The winner of the contest, such as it was, was Stella Majic of Kelowna, who sent in the correct answer before anyone else. Several others did get the right answer, though.
And yes, Stella and I did have coffee last week. I don’t what I’d have done if she lived in St. John’s.
The only substantive letter about that column came from Brian Sutch, who wrote, “One thing you did not touch on was the filing of positions by 'quotas' by the Liberals to garner the votes of various groups. This led to many appointments in both the political and federal workforce of people who were simply not qualified. During my almost 30 years as an employee of the Federal Government, on several occasions I had people parachuted into my unit who were simply not qualified for the work they were performing, simply so someone in upper management could get a sticker on their CV for quota-filling. (E.G. How does your previous job as an airline steward qualify you for a job in auditing?)
“With regards to Jody Wilson-Raybould, I suggest people read Conrad Black's recent article on her actions in disregarding or changing laws with which she did not agree, and it becomes obvious that she very much had her own agenda. One has to ask, if quotas were not being filled, why the present incumbent was not given the job in the first place? (I never thought I would agree with anything and that Conrad Black had to say, but he was 100% correct in his research on the background and previous actions of JWR.)
“I have always considered myself as a humanitarian which pretty much placed me in the Liberal camp but I am having serious doubts with the present Liberal government particularly after they reneged on their promise of introducing proportional voting. And I have had more than enough of their attempts to buy the votes of every minority group in Canada with our tax dollars. The upcoming election is going to be very interesting as the results of many recent elections around the world have shown that people have had enough of politics as usual and they want more influence in what is happening than just being given one vote every four years or so.
“As General De Gaulle once famously remarked ‘Politics is far too an important business to be left to politicians’.”
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet