Menstruation’s Moment: A panel about why period politics matter now more than ever

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Menstruation's MomentJoin on us on March 6 for Menstruation’s Moment: A panel about why period politics matter now more than ever. Tickets are now on sale – scroll down to purchase yours today. And – every attendee will receive a DivaCupa at the event!

To mark International Women’s Day early, grab a Bloody Caesar and bask in the energy and expertise of women at the forefront of the menstrual movement. Jennifer Weiss-Wolf – author of Periods Gone Public, the book Gloria Steinem says is “the beginning of liberation for us all” – is joined by entrepreneurs, activists and international development leaders. These vibrant, vocal visionaries are coming together in challenging and real dialogue about smashing shame, period policy, values-based business, shedding taboos, and bringing down barriers that prevent people with periods from accessing menstrual supplies.

Come explore the role that the menstrual movement must play at this turning point for intersectional feminism. 

Esteemed panellists include:

Doors open at 6 pm, and the panel begins at 7 pm at Good Gorilla Creative Coworking (401 Richmond – LL01). There will be hors d’oeuvres, drinks and a silent auction. We are excited to have you be a part of this meaningful conversation.

This event is generously sponsored by LunapadsAll proceeds from this event will go to Mother Nature Partnership, a charitable organization that works in Toronto and Cameroon to tear down the barriers that too often keep girls out of school and women out of work. By attending, you will be helping to provide access to menstrual health supplies to girls and women in Cameroon in March 2018, so they can realize their rights to health and dignity and participate fully in their own lives.

We are committed to creating as inclusive and accessible a space as possible. If ticket prices are prohibitive, please email info@mothernaturepartnership.org as we have reserved free tickets to increase accessibility of the event. 

Big News for an Unwritten Year Ahead

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The New Year brings with it the opportunity to pause, and look at what you want to create for 2018. To examine your values, and the way that you work as an individuals and as a collective of individuals looking to make change.
Well – the pause and quiet period of examination is officially over here at Mother Nature Partnership. Our sleeves are rolled up, as we begin to make our dreams for the year a reality.

We have two exciting announcements that are part of that reality – and most importantly the IMPACT – that we are creating in 2018.

First – we will be running our program in Cameroon this March! This means arming girls and women with the information and supplies that they need to live their lives to the fullest. In our workshops, we will focus on our culturally-appropriate curriculum of female empowerment, gender equality and menstrual hygiene 101. We know that girls are often left behind in school at the onset of puberty, because they lack the menstrual supplies that will mean attending school with dignity. And women too often have to miss work and lose essential income, because menstrual supplies are prohibitively expensive. This is unjust. To combat that, all participants in the program will have the choice of reusable menstrual supplies that work for them – either a kit of reusable pads, or a reusable menstrual cup.

Ruby Cup Logo RedWhich brings us to our second announcement. We are over the moon to share some big news: a new partnership with Ruby Cup! We have been fans of theirs for a long time now, and are ready to embark on a new partnership with them to reach more girls and women. Like us, they are working to promote menstrual health in countries in the Global South while also transforming how people in the Global North manage their periods. Through their Buy One, Give One program, for every cup sold they will donate another cup to a girl or woman who doesn’t have access to the menstrual products she needs. Like us, they are focused on partnerships between menstruators, and on reducing our collective impact on the planet.

Through this new partnership, Ruby Cup will be providing reusable menstrual cups to Mother Nature Partnership, which will be distribute directly to women and girls in Cameroon in March. It is about partnership – between organizations, between menstruators, between people and our planet.

We can’t wait to share in this journey with Ruby Cup, and with all of our supporters. Stay tuned on ways you can get involved. (Hint – epic event for March is in the works!)

Bells and whistles aside, what matters to me at the end of the day is that we live in hard times and it can be overwhelming. It can feel like we don’t know what to do. Then I remember that it is a new, unwritten year that we can fill with good intentions, backed by a good plan and good partners. I remember that providing menstrual health INFORMATION, ACCESS and CHOICE is a tangible way that we can make a world of difference for a fellow human. We can help her realize her right – to health, and to dignity.

Sustainable, Gracious Giving

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In an era of clutter and extraction – and a year that has been hard for both women and Mother Nature – what can be better than simpler, waste-free holiday gifts. Minimalist. Environmentalist. Feminist. Gifts.

 

Insta - Giving Tuesday Post4Today, our beautiful collection of R E D + G R E E N gifts are available. R E D for our tangible impact in menstrual programming. G R E E N for environmental impact.

Gifts start at $15, and there are options for everyone on your list. Like $50 for a  Girls’ Period Pack, which includes a menstrual kit and workshop for a girl in the Global South. Or $25 for a Scarlet Swag Bag – a menstrual kit for a woman here in Canada. Or $75 for a Boys’ Ally Bundle, which supports a boy in participating in a workshop about gender equality, consent and positive masculinity. See all gifts here.

Every gift comes with an e-card or a plantable card that grows into wildflowers. This is a tangible and eco-friendly way to share the gift with your loved one.

Love,
Mother Nature Partnership ☾
xo 

Undies

Scarlet Swag Bag

 

Period Pack

 

Boy Bundle

 

Teacher Training

 

Canada Workshop

 

Girls Period Power Workshop

 

One Day Holiday Market at Shecosystem

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Holiday Market
Join us at the Shecosystem: Coworking & Wellness for a holiday market curated by easy. period! There will be a selection of feminine focused brands coming together to create a beautiful market of local goods, art and clothing. The perfect place to shop this holiday season!

Mother Nature Partnership will be there to offer our minimalist, feminist and environmentalist R E D + G R E E N gifts. These are symbolic gifts for everyone you love. They give back to women, girls and Mother Nature. Each gift comes with the choice of an e-card or an adorable plantable card that grows into wildflowers. See all about it and purchase a gift online at our gift catalogue. Or swing by our table at the Holiday Market!

At the market, they will be collecting donations at the market for the women of Sistering: A Woman’s Place. We will be donating menstrual kits including reusable menstrual cups and resources about usage, care and where to access menstrual supplies at shelters and drop-ins in Toronto.

See below for vendor information and donation suggestions.

Vendors:

CurlShoppe (All natural hair products)
Devlyn van Loon (Sustainable fashion)
Klas squared (Hand crafted jewellery)
Tabban Soleimani (Artist)
Eve Kit (Personal health testing kits)
FemEvolve (Women’s Mag – Science and Health)
Vo Bath & Co. (Luxurious Bath & Beauty products)
Bridge + Bardot (Vintage clothing)
SCOTCH bonnet (Women’s athletic apparel)
The Salvage (Zines on creativity and self care)
Ombites (Gluten free, vegan, dairy free snacks)
RichYogi (Homemade Kimonos and Yoga Mat Straps)
Creating Light Studio (Portrait and Branding photography)
Chic Couture High End Consignment
Harlow & Co. (International and Indie nail polish)
The Original Smiths (Vintage, upcycled clothing)
Sophomore Magazine (Feminist Media Brand)
Coriander Girl Toronto (Flower and Antique Shop)

Suggested Donations

Hand/body lotions – small sizes
Soap
Lip balm
Deodorant
Toothbrush/toothpaste Shampoo/conditioner – small sizes Tissues – small packets
Towels

Blankets Coats/sweaters
Mittens/gloves Hats Scarves Socks –NEW only
Tim Hortons gift cards in increments of $5.00
Chocolate
Accessories (jewellery, hair clips, etc)
Cosmetics – mascara, lip gloss, eye shadow, etc.

Register for your free ticket to the Holiday Market here! xo

Menstrual Kits for Homeless Women in Toronto: Our First Program in Canada

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The heart of our work is found in that place where environmentalism and feminism meet. And the way that we get our work done is through partnership – as our name would imply.

Partnership to us is connection and intentional, roll-your-sleeves-up collaboration. It is partnership between women and their own bodies. Between people with much to give, and people in need. Between countries, between communities. Between people and Mother Nature herself.

Most often, that has brought us to Cameroon, where our projects have been impacted and our impact has been felt. We have been and continue to be committed to working in this region: because of great need for menstrual health programming, and because of deep connections and knowledge that make our programming appropriate and impactful. Those connections and established partnerships are critical to our existence and relevance.

How serendipitous, then, that after months of discussing working locally at home, a new connection emerged and led to our first Canadian program. Our Board member Sarah McDonald had brought forward the idea of a local-to-us program ages ago, because of the need that exists here in Canada. The Board decided we should explore the idea, and we’ve been since doing outreach and evaluating the right way to make an impact.

Executive Director Irene Whittaker-Cumming speaking at Syzygy Toronto in May 2017.

Executive Director Irene Whittaker-Cumming speaking at Syzygy Toronto in May 2017.

Fast forward to this past May. I was speaking at an event in Toronto hosted by Syzygy, an exciting collective that brings together women in community. They talk about a “union of opposites”, and that’s what emerged when I met another woman who is well-versed and active in homelessness efforts in Toronto. Between her locality and my expertise in international work, we were indeed a union of opposites.

This union led to Mother Nature Partnership’s first Canadian program, which came to life in October.

We were compelled to work here in Canada because we are grounded in a feminist approach that is about intersections and connection, and one that firmly rejects patriarchal dichotomies (such as man versus woman, human versus animal, and so forth). This false story we’ve all been told of “here versus there” in regards to international development versus “our own backyard” diminishes compassion, and the natural impulse of people to feel a shared humanity.

Guests line up for hours to access the services under one roof at Homeless Connect Toronto.

Guests line up for hours to access the services under one roof at Homeless Connect Toronto.

Shared humanity tells us that the need exists here in Canada. The stats tell us the same thing. In 2016, 27% of Canada’s homeless population was made up of women. And that doesn’t include the hidden populations of women that experts suspect exist, but aren’t counted because they live in precarious or temporary conditions. For women who menstruate, getting their period each month can be an additional hardship that leaves them searching for free supplies or using makeshift materials. (Interested in more info? Read about it in the Toronto Star and VICE.)

Menstrual Kits

We were providing – big surprise – menstrual supplies and resources! We met hundreds of women, and provided 100 women with menstrual kits that included a choice of reusable menstrual cups or environmentally-friendly disposable pads or tampons, new underwear, and helpful resources. Our resources included a selection of handouts with information on menstruation, and the use and care of menstrual cups.

Menstrual Kits with contentsWe also developed and circulated an original MNP resource on where to access free menstrual supplies at Toronto shelters and drop-ins – to our knowledge, this doesn’t exist yet in one central resource, and we are proud to have researched and created it. We had in-depth conversations with guests about feminism, about taboos around menstruation, and about their lived experiences.

As is our way, we made new connections with shelters and drop-ins who loved our work and expressed need for a Mother Nature Partnership program with the women they serve. (Stay tuned for exciting developments!)

Board Member Jessica RileyI left the day with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. For the women we interacted with, for the serendipitous syzygetic connection that led to this day, for the opportunity to do such rewarding and powerful work. Women experiencing homeless expressed joy at the offering of free underwear, often asking for an extra pair. They shared their need for menstrual supplies and their gratitude for the offering. Often, women took a kit for their daughter or friend. The menstrual cup was particularly enticing to our guests, and this reinforces our conviction in reusable menstrual supplies as an accessible and earth-friendly solution.

Every. Single. Menstrual. Kit. Found a home.

Of course, there is more need – and there are more solutions. We have some of those solutions, and need help to provide them. You can be a part of it by donating directly to our work to make it a reality. We are small and mighty, and as a volunteer-run organization all funds go straight to the impact. As a donor, you can choose whether the funds go directly to our Cameroon or Canada program – or to greatest need.

Because regardless of “here or there”, we can rise above that narrative. Instead we can focus on our shared humanity, and the partnerships that make good things transpire where injustice once stood.

To Women, With Love

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Happy International Women’s Day! To mark this most important of days, we want to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to the many women who work with us to realize a world in which every girl is free to live to her fullest potential, in harmony with Mother Nature.

Thank you to the teachers, mentors, donors, partners and friends who all play a role in the world we are creating.

Thank you to every woman and girl out there who is raising her voice, being her brave self, fighting the good fight, and being a part of a relentless movement for equality.

To say thank you, we want to share a few favourite photos from our project in Cameroon to celebrate women everywhere. And to all the women out there today – keep fighting and speaking out and singing and marching.

A teacher hands out reusable pads to students in Wabane District in Cameroon.

A teacher hands out reusable pads to students in Wabane District in Cameroon.

A teacher sorts through Afripads from Lunapads and underwear to make sure every girl gets the right supplies for her.

A teacher sorts through Afripads from Lunapads and underwear to make sure every girl gets the right supplies for her.

A young woman helps register a younger student for our program, to make sure we understand her unique needs for knowledge and reusable menstrual supplies.

A young woman helps register a younger student for our program, to make sure we understand her unique needs for knowledge and reusable menstrual supplies.

A group of teachers in Wabane District gather with our Executive Director Irene Whittaker-Cumming after a successful workshop. These women are the rock of their schools and communities.

A group of teachers in Wabane District gather with our Executive Director Irene Whittaker-Cumming after a successful workshop. These women are the rock of their schools and communities.

A young woman participant in our program shows off her brand new Femmecup. Every girl has the choice between reusable pads or a cup, depending on what works for her.

A young woman participant in our program shows off her brand new Femmecup. Every girl has the choice between reusable pads or a cup, depending on what works for her.

A group of smiling young women show off their menstrual cups after a fun workshop together. Often we find that younger girls prefer reusable pads, while adolescent girls and women often decide on menstrual cups. But, of course, the decision is personal and varies from person to person.

A group of smiling young women show off their menstrual cups after a fun workshop together. Often we find that younger girls prefer reusable pads, while adolescent girls and women often decide on menstrual cups. But, of course, the decision is personal and varies from person to person.

This teacher takes care of her baby and teaches a large class of girls about their health and bodies. What a force.

This teacher takes care of her baby and teaches a large class of girls about their health and bodies. What a force.

Stella has been a pivotal part of our girls program in Cameroon. She taught workshops, cooked delicious meals, and helped broaden our program to rural women in the community.

Stella has been a pivotal part of our girls program in Cameroon. She taught workshops, cooked delicious meals, and helped broaden our program to rural women in the community.

This pregnant woman shares her ideas and insights with other teachers as part of a women's focus group we hosted in Wabane District.

This pregnant woman shares her ideas and insights with other teachers as part of a women’s focus group we hosted in Wabane District.

Stella takes a much deserved break from her work and joins the conversation. She is such an inspiration, and works tirelessly for her community and family. Like many women, she takes on many roles - including being a strong role model.

Stella takes a much deserved break from her work and joins the conversation. She is such an inspiration, and works tirelessly for her community and family. Like many women, she takes on many roles – including being a strong role model.

These teachers pause from a conversation filled with insight-sharing, laughter and ideas to take a photo. The conversation could have lasted for hours more, it was so rich and full.

These teachers pause from a conversation filled with insight-sharing, laughter and ideas to take a photo. The conversation could have lasted for hours more, it was so rich and full.

Laughter was a mainstay of the conversation with these intelligent teachers. In between offering insights about the girls in their community and the needs of girls and women, we found plenty of time laugh.

Laughter was a mainstay of the conversation with these intelligent teachers. In between offering insights about the girls in their community and the needs of girls and women, we found plenty of time laugh.

A teacher takes a solitary moment after a powerful conversation with other women leaders in her community.

A teacher takes a solitary moment after a powerful conversation with other women leaders in her community.

A teacher shows a young girl how to use reusable menstrual supplies. Girls in our workshop represented a wide range of ages, from 10 right up to 20 years old. Different groups and individuals have different needs, and so the workshop changes to adapt to their life stage and circumstances.

A teacher shows a young girl how to use reusable menstrual supplies. Girls in our workshop represented a wide range of ages, from 10 right up to 20 years old. Different groups and individuals have different needs, and so the workshop changes to adapt to their life stage and circumstances.

 

Springing Up: Women and Girls Are Both Victims and Vanquishers of Climate Change

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Earth DayEarth Day matters to every individual – every man, woman, child, antelope, tiger and earthworm. As an interconnected web with intricate correlations and dependencies, we all rely on a happy climate that doesn’t sway too far from the one that we evolved into. The difference of a couple of degrees can be catastrophic in ways that no one fully understands, because of the beautiful and ornate complexities of the planet that is our lush and abundant home.


Earth Day is particularly important to girls and women. In human societies around the globe, women and girls are uniquely affected by climate change and its effects. Climate change deepens instead of bridges inequities, and as the gender that is firmly embedded below the other in societal structures, the marginalized woman will see deepening hardship. Scratch that. She already is seeing deepening hardship.


From food shortages to water scarcity to precarious health to increased susceptibility in the wake of natural disasters, women and girls are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Research has shown that women farmers account for 45 to 80 per cent of all food production in developing countries, and when climate change hits, traditional foods that women cultivate become unpredictable and scarce. Food prices rise and poor people – of which women are disproportionately represented – see a decline in health. This is exacerbated by the exclusion of women from decision-making that is so essential: to their land, their livelihoods, their lives.


Women and girls are also largely responsible for menial and essential tasks that keep communities and countries running, but are unaccounted for in personal and societal economics. Fetching water, collecting firewood, caring for children. As instability and insecurity tremble, these fundamental tasks will begin to take more time, leaving less room for women’s and girls’ education, employment, leisure, creativity and innovation.


This is not a rosy picture. Yet women and girls, like Mother Nature herself, are resilient. Not only are they uniquely affected by climate change, but they are also instigators of solutions. Creative, smart solutions that are springing up globally. Custom made for the problems that face communities.


In the face of globalization and environmental degradation fuelled by behemoth corporate greed, bigger is not always better. As Naomi Klein argues so ferociously and articulately in This Changes Everything, localized solutions are creating real impact in the fight for the environment. Women are often at the forefront of these effective local movements. Indigenous people and communities offer a wealth of knowledge and understanding that needs to inform humanity’s relationship to ecosystems and biodiversity.


Women and girls are also uniquely poised to make an environmental impact through reproductive health. Boys and men also need to play an equal and active role, and to be respected as conscientious, capable, compassionate humans. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are not only important for health and equity, but they also play a critical role in the thoughtful stewardship of our earth. As overpopulation and excessive consumption meet in a destructive marriage, creating access to reproductive health information, supplies and services is essential. Smart and effective – and a basic human right.


This extends to menstrual health management, an area where women and girls are making a positive difference. Globally, reusable menstrual cups and pads are increasingly recognized as environmentally-friendly options. At a fraction of the cost and with none of the toxins and mysterious ingredients found in of disposable menstrual supplies, reusable supplies make sense in diverse contexts. From a health, economic, cultural and environmental perspective, women and girls are making the switch to reusable menstrual health management.


Women and girls stand to lose the most in the face of climate change. They are also harbingers of hope that are modelling conscientious solutions around the world. Women and girls are springing up everywhere as creative, smart stewards of Mother Nature.

 

IMG_9612By Irene Whittaker-Cumming, Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership

Irene is an advocate for women’s health. A published writer and photographer, she seeks out the beautiful and the just, and incorporates both into her work. She is award-winning for her work as the founder and Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership, an organization that seeks to empower girls and women to live their lives to the fullest. She is a communications consultant in international women’s and children’s health. She is the recipient of a Nelson Mandela Graça Machel Innovation Award and a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and has been shortlisted for a CBC Literary Award. 

 

Twenty Thousand Words: Photo-Essay of a Girls’ Program in Cameroon

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Anyone who knows me will tell that I can be, er, verbose. Read: I use too many words. Particularly when I love something as much as I love Mother Nature Partnership – and when I believe in something as strongly as I believe in our impact – I can tend to ramble. So I thought I would put faith in the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand word. (By extension, twenty photos are worth twenty thousand words, right?)

Here is a look at our girls’ program in Wabane District in Cameroon. This community has welcomed us in to work with girls in high school, by providing access to information and reusable supplies for menstrual care. Because when you have quality menstrual care, you are free to stop worrying about your period and start living your life freely. Enjoy this snapshot of the moments that shape our work, and the people we are privileged to work in partnership with.

Teacher-with-baby

Girls are at the centre of everything we do. Maybe one day this beautiful baby girl will participate in our program when she is a student! Her mama is a teacher who will be able to guide her through her own menstrual evolution.

Students-looking-in

Girls watch the program with rapt attention. Students often congregate outside of the classroom doors and windows to see what the program is all about. In each school we work with, the program is open to girls students from every grade.

Shopkeeper

A local shopkeeper in Wabane District provides supplies for the community. Sanitary pads from this shop cost about $10 USD – a cost that is universally prohibitive to girl students. The result? Most girls use nothing at all or makeshift unhygienic supplies for menstrual care.

Principal

Principals welcome us into their schools and make us feel proud to be a part of the community. They have their students’ best interests at heart. Working with these school leaders is important to making a lasting impact and being a part of the individual fabric of that school. But – male teachers and principals are asked to leave the girls’ program, to much laughter from the girls!

Focus-group

A teacher from Wabane District congregates with other women for a group conversation that is focussed on the needs, challenges and solutions in the community. The conversation over dinner touches everything from the students, to family planning, to menstrual care, to marriage norms. This woman and I connected as we were both in our third trimester of pregnancy at the time.

care.

Elder

Elders from the community are pivotal to understanding how we can make a lasting impact. Community leaders like this man care deeply about the girls in their community. In partnership with them we discuss tactics for increasing graduation rates among girls, as well as providing every girl student with the materials and information she needs to fully participate at school and realize health and happiness.

Supplies-Pads-Cups

Every participant has the choice between reusable cups from Femmecup or a reusable Afripads kit donated from Lunapads’ One4Her program. This choice is based on each girl’s personal preference, and comes with training on how to use the supplies safely and keep them clean for years to come.

Teacher

This teacher is quickly rifling through supplies to make sure that girl students have their choice of reusable menstrual cups or pads.

Underwear

Underwear are provided to all participants so that they have a hygienic, reliable pair to wear during menstruation.

Teachers

The teachers in Wabane District are a smart and talented group, and they drive how to best bring the programming to their students.

Teacher-guiding-student

A teacher guides her student in learning how to use reusable pads. This girl was in a classroom where no one knew what menstruation was – but it turned out that 6 girls had already experienced menses without knowing what it was. Access to information is essential: armed with knowledge, a girl has incredible power.

Students-at-desks

Tracking and reporting our impact is important, so that we can learn what has huge impact and what needs to be improved for future programs. Surveys are distributed at the beginning of the program and then 6 months later, to measure changes and impact over time.

Student-activity

A flurry of activity! The sessions with the girl students are fun, engaging and very loud. The room buzzes with excitement.

Principal-office

Never has “going to the Principal’s office” been so positive: before every workshop, we meet with the school’s Principal to discuss the students and the best approach for that particular school. Informal dialogue continues with the Principal at other opportunities, to make sure we have as much information as possible.

Kids-running

Girls and boys from every grade flock with excitement to a school-wide assembly that emphasizes the importance of getting an education. This theme is a thread that goes throughout our programming.

Hard-to-reach

We believe it is important to bring our program to the hardest-to-reach schools. A day-long journey over hostile terrain brings us to the most remote school in Wabane District, and the response from the girl students makes it worth the trip. We continue to be committed to reaching every girl, regardless of geography, income and other factors.

Girls-laughing

Three students examine a reusable menstrual pad, smiling and in awe. For many of the girls, they have never seen or heard of these before, and there are audible “oohs!” and “ahhhs!” from students during the demonstration of how to use and care for the supplies. This is particularly true from the older girls that have already started menstruating.

Evaluation-Surveys

To grow and learn, we need to track what works as well as where we fall short. This is a late night stapling session as we put the finishing touches on the pre- and post-program surveys, the night before our first workshop. These surveys track a whole host of information about the participants, from menstrual health knowledge to available income for menstrual supplies to behaviours around school attendance and menstrual care.

Girls-filling-surveys

Girls thoughtfully fill out their pre-program surveys, to help Mother Nature Partnership learn from them about their needs, behaviours, thoughts and preferences. These an important tool for us to improve our programming every year.

Girl-Student

We come full circle: at the heart of our program is the freedom, access and happiness of each and every girl that we have the privilege to work in partnership with.

IMG_9612All photographs and text by Irene Whittaker-Cumming, Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership. This is the first in a series of blog about Mother Nature Partnership’s girls’ program in Cameroon. 

 

Equity Schmequity: How All Things Are Not Equal This Menstrual Hygiene Day

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Equity-GirlHappy Menstrual Hygiene Day! I guess we aren’t at the point yet where there are fireworks for this particular celebration? We don’t gather at a pub and dye the beer red, or cheers our Bloody Mary’s. We don’t bake red velvet cupcakes for our friends and tell stories of past periods or share wishes for our coming cycles. Neither do we dress up in costumes and go door-to-door asking for menstrual supplies. “Trick or tampon!” That’s alright – we have enough holidays already.

So what do we do for this, the second menstrual hygiene day? Personally, it has me thinking about the big questions. Namely: what does menstruation have to do with our rights as women, and how close are we to equity when it comes to menstrual health?

I had used the words equality and equity interchangeably until a discussion in a university women’s studies course taught me that they are different things. I impatiently listened to the definitions the way I listened to many topics in that class: fascinated and fired up by the topics, but also frustrated that there was so much gosh-darn talking. Everything was debated until what was wrong, was right, and by the end of it you didn’t know your name anymore. Everything was questioned. What I had thought was wrong might be empowering, and what was right might be objectifying. (I have since decided for myself that there are very few rights or wrongs, and what matters is choice. But let’s save something for another blog…)

Girls absorbing information about menstruation and how to take care of your body.

Girls absorbing information about menstruation and how to take care of your body.

The professor gave a very clear example of equality versus equity, which has stuck with me ever since. Take public washrooms, for example. Equality is having two identical washrooms, one for men and one for women, each with four stalls. Men and women are treated exactly the same. Equity, on the other hand, could be a washroom for men with two stalls and a handful of urinals. The women’s washroom could have six stalls and no urinals. Maybe both could have accessible stalls to be inclusive to all needs, and could both have changing tables so that both can contribute to changing diapers. This second scenario takes into account certain differences between men and women, without placing one above the other. It seeks to meet everyone’s unique needs. Of course, you could also have one massive washroom where everyone has access and it has everything you need! There are countless variations on the example and we could discuss this example ad nauseam, but you get the idea.

Menstrual care is all about equity. When a girl or woman is denied menstrual care, either intentionally or through neglect, it is inequity. It is injustice. Because it disadvantages and holds her back. It doesn’t recognize or meet her unique needs. For the girls we work with in Cameroon, this inequity is a monthly reality. One that we are seeking to address, together. Nearly all of the girls in Wabane District have no access to the essential menstrual supplies that they need. Not want. Need. Because they have barriers – namely financial – to menstrual supplies, they resort to using scrap materials or nothing at all. Because of the embarrassment that inevitably comes from this, girls are absent, or worse, they drop out of school. The consequences of this are obviously and unacceptably far-reaching: lower grades, decreased graduation levels, earlier marriage and child-bearing, and lower incomes. This then impacts her family and her community. Not to mention her health and happiness, which should be considered paramount but somehow doesn’t weigh as much as the financial and educational considerations.

Inequity around menstruation is not restricted to Cameroon. We experience it here in Canada, too. While most of our girls and women do have access to menstrual supplies, until recently we haven’t considered menstrual products a need, but rather a frivolous want. Recently we have seen progress, as the movement to eliminate GST from tampons and pads gains momentum with the Canadian government. In fact, as of July 1st the tax will be gone for good. This is good news, if overdue. But we still do not enforce any laws that hold pad and tampon companies to share what chemicals and toxins they put in their products. Despite these supplies coming into prolonged contact with one of the most absorptive parts of a woman’s body, we don’t ask these companies for transparency. We ask food companies to disclose what they put in their products, because we believe it is our right to know. But not for menstrual supplies? This, too, is inequity.

Things will never be equal when it comes to menstruation. That would be ridiculous. Men don’t menstruate. And that’s okay. Because we are inherently different, just as every individual is unique from one another. That is what makes us human beings beautiful, and what separates us from mosquitos and photocopies. But things can, and must, be equitable where menstruation is concerned. All that we needed is full access, full information and full choice. And that isn’t as hard as we make it out to be.

IMG_9612By Irene Whittaker-Cumming, Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership. 

 

The Youngest Girl at G Day

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gday1My motivation for being involved with G Day Toronto changed over the months I’ve been involved with it. Changed dramatically. It became real for me.

When I first was invited by Lunapads to be a part of the organizing committee for the inaugural G Day Toronto, I was thrilled. It had been a success in Vancouver, and now it was time to bring it to my community. G Day is a celebration of girls age 10 to 12, and provides them with community-based rites of passage as they make the age-old journey from girlhood to adolescence. How could I not want to be a part of it? While I was busy preparing for Mother Nature Partnership’s girls’ program and was also pregnant and trying to keep some sense of calm and space in my life, I was compelled to commit to G Day Toronto. I had three great reasons that drew me to the event.

First and foremost, I believe wholeheartedly in the purpose of the event. G Day strives to inspire positive self-esteem and supportive family and community relationships as girls start that incomparable transition to womanhood. This couldn’t be more aligned with my own belief that the onset of puberty and menarche should be marked with respect and celebration.

I was also honoured to be a part of the powerhouse group of women who are on the organizing committee of G Day Toronto. I was thrilled to be invited to join the committee by Madeleine Shaw of Lunapads. The group is led by Toronto-based educator Emily Rose Antflick. The other dynamic women who have been pouring their hearts and souls into the event are Zahra Haji of Yoga Goddess, Alison Smyth, Tanya Geisler, and heroes of mine Amy and Kim Sedgwick of Red Tent Sisters. I am proud to be in the company of these women. What a force.

SIMILARITIES smallThe third reason that drew me to G Day Toronto was the opportunity to share stories about the young women that I had the great privilege of meeting in Mother Nature Partnership’s girls’ program in early 2015. G Day would provide me with a forum to connect girls in Canada with their counterparts in Cameroon. This would be the manifestation of the partnership that is central to our identity as an organization. I would be able to talk about the similarities and differences between girlhood in these two countries. I could shed light on the universalities that unite us all – at least, from my perspective. From my own childhood, I can remember clearly speakers and events that had a profound impact on my understanding of the world and my place in it. I hope to make a similar lasting impression on girls that gather this Sunday, through my stories of girls in Central Africa and their relationship with menstruation and adolescence. I’m looking forward to talking with these Canadian girls about my experiences in Cameroon – and to telling them that girls everywhere talk, question and laugh about the same things.

Annaliese in StarsBut what made G Day more real – more vital – for me? On March 27, I welcomed my new daughter into the world. The most beautiful person (I’m not biased, am I?) came into my life. And she is a girl, adolescent and woman in the making. One day in the not-so-distant future this stunning being will be confronted with myriad negative cultural forces, hard decisions, the cruelties of adolescent social circles and the bombardment of pressures that face a young woman in our society. That, I am sad to say, is inevitable. Will she be strong enough to know herself? Will she feel supported, smart and powerful enough to withstand these forces like a wavering but sturdy tree on a windy day? Will I be able to equip her, as much as any mother can, to be kind, confident, self-respecting and powerful in the face of a patriarchal system that has heavy demands to weigh on her shoulders?

I sincerely hope so. Right now, she is sleeping soundly right beside me, perfect and beautiful and powerful and whole, and I wish with all my heart that she sees herself in that same light. Yes, even into adolescence. And in the meantime, as she sleeps and grows and enjoys infant bliss, I hope that the women and girls that come together this Sunday can support one another in a community of strength.

I hope that every girl and woman there sees herself as perfect and beautiful and powerful and whole.