Since the beginning of time, menstruation has been a woman’s monthly reminder of her important role in procreation. For years, Aunt Flo’s visit – which is as natural as breathing – has been a taboo topic from one corner of the world to another.
The lucky ones have manipulated the crimson wave with birth control, contained their rag with tampons and pads, and hygienically remedied leak week with baths, showers and bidets. Then one day, while completing post-graduate degrees in International Development, two young women started to think about what women in rural East Africa did when they had their period, and how they managed to stay clean and healthy.
Fast forward two years later to a busy little café in Toronto, and Pocket Robin caught up with Canadian entrepreneur and humanitarian Sabrina Rubli, co-founder of Femme International. Femme is one of the only NGOs dedicated to menstrual health and hygiene education, and the only organization promoting menstrual cups as a financially and environmentally sustainable solution.
In 2012, the British Educational Research Association claimed that:
“sanitary supplies are arguably the lowest cost intervention measure to yield the largest social and economic change in both the short and long term.”
Femme runs a Feminine Health Management program in partnership with local schools in East Africa and focuses on two major components; education and distribution. Participants are led through a series of interactive workshops about female anatomy, reproductive health, essential hygiene, menstruation, and menstrual management. Key to the success of these workshops is the creation of a safe space for girls to ask questions about their body.
Femme Kits are distributed to participants once they have completed the FMH workshops, and are designed to contain everything a woman needs to manage her period in a safe and effective way. Central to the Kit is a menstrual cup – a surgical grade silicone cup that can be re-used for up to ten years. Unlike pads and tampons, cups only need to be emptied every 12 hours enabling girls to attend school without worrying about the availability of private washroom facilities or revealing their period to peers.
“ For schoolgirls, having a menstrual cup allows them to attend school – every day of the month.”
Listening to Sabrina speak about the implications of menstruation so boldly for all café patrons to hear was a liberating experience, and provided a glimpse into why the FHM programs are so impactful for the young women who participate. By including educational sessions in their outreach, Femme goes beyond merely supplying feminine hygiene products and creates an atmosphere of support and openness between the young women that attend.
This model also increases the likelihood that the supplied menstrual cups will be utilized successfully. Effective menstrual management results in increased rates of school attendance among girls, lower instances of reproductive infection and disease, and reduced engagements in prostitution. Femme’s work is tackling the basic physiological need that 51% of East Africans face, and doing so in a way that is not only effective, but empowering.
“We believe that all women deserve the opportunity to empower themselves through education and personal health. By providing females with innovative tools and knowledge, we hope to facilitate their ability to overcome gender-specific barriers.”
Learn more or contribute by visiting www.femmeinternational.org
To read a comical yet factual article about why menstrual cups are good for your body (not to mention the environment) check out this Buzzfeed article.