Category Archives: Uncategorised

To Women, With Love

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

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.

 

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

By | Our Blog, Uncategorised | No Comments

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. 

 

Question Period

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

Get ready for Question Period, our second infamous trivia night! Come to the Drake Hotel on December 2, 2014 for a good food, good drink, great cause party. 

Comedic geniuses Hannah Cheesman & Kristian Bruun will test your knowledge of the factual and the inane, and of course, into every trivia night a little blood must fall with some period-centric questions. You’ll be having so much fun that you will barely notice you are supporting MNP’s groundbreaking work in January 2015: all proceeds will help provide 1,000 girls in Cameroon with menstrual health supplies and information. Plus – there are prizes to be won!

You can sign up your team of four players or sign up as an individual (do you trust our matchmaking skills?!). Name your team (and yes, there are points for wit and cleverness).

Doors open at 7 pm so we can roll up our sleeves and get serious about trivia at 8 pm. Tickets are $15 per person or $60 for a team of four. See you at #QuestionPeriodTO.

SIGN UP FOR QUESTION PERIOD!

__________________________________________________________________________

Fact or Fiction: Are the moon and menstruation connected?

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

moon-phasesIt’s that old statistician’s lament: correlation isn’t causation. Two things that seem like they sync up often turn out to be a coincidence. Take, for example, a woman’s menstrual cycle and the lunar calendar. At first glance, they seem like they might somehow intertwine: after all, they both last about a month, they both have distinct cyclical phases, and the moon plays a key role in other earthly liquid phenomena like the tides. But does the science check out?

Spoiler alert: nope! Not even a little.

First, some backstory. Humans have a long history of seeing the moon as a feminine force: in ancient Greece, Phoebe was the lunar goddess (sister of Helios, the sun god, naturally). Her other name? Mene, which is one of the roots of the words menstruation. The Mayan moon goddess is associated with fertility and procreation, but also with crops and water: basically, anything that grows from the earth. And Artume, an Etruscan moon goddess, was linked to the night and fertility. These mythologies tend to depict lunar deities as smart, beautiful, and governing natural cycles where fertility would be especially important, like farming and the annual harvest.

On the dark side, werewolves and vampires are both linked to moonlight, and while those figures are fictional, their interest in blood just can’t be denied. Werewolves are an especially potent character, since they’re “normal” for 28 days and a monster for a single full-mooned night. There’s a hoary old joke about ladies on their periods in that one, right? (Sigh.)

Let’s get out of the Turner Classic Monster stable and back into the science lab. Some facts: the moon’s cycle is highly regular, with a fresh new moon debuting every 29.53 days. This happens regardless of what else is going on in the universe. Solar flares, space landings and asteroids don’t affect the moon. Our little satellite spins dependably along, fattening itself up for the full moon and then waning into a sliver before hiding itself entirely as the new moon.

Women’s cycles are a little more…unpredictable. Our systems are a complex biological loop that can be affected by stress, hormones, sickness, and even exercise. It’s common for people’s cycles to vary between 21 days and 35 days. Even women who report regular periods can have an unpredictably long or short cycle once in a while. Here’s why: each month, the body tries to release an egg at the best time to achieve pregnancy. If the body senses a fever or stress hormones, there’s no use releasing an egg into a body that’s too hot, stressed, or hungry to keep it healthy. Our bodies are willing to wait a little while to keep the egg optimized and ready for fertilization, and that’s when we’re faced with a cycle that’s longer than usual.

So why do our cultures link the moon and the menstrual cycle?

Well, for starters: it’s easy. Humans have been creating lunar calendars since we first noticed the moon waxing and waning, and some religions and cultures still use them to this day. Some Native American tribes used full moons to track important seasonal milestones—the Corn Planting moon in May, or the Travel Moon in the fall beaver-trapping season, for example—and both the Islamic and Jewish faiths still use a lunar calendar to establish important feast and fasting days throughout each year.

Menstrual cycles seem to fall along roughly the same timelines, and it can be tempting to use the moon’s cycles to track an ovulatory or menstrual cycle. Tempting, but unless you’re ready to pick out baby names, you might want to rethink it. Studies that link the moon with fertility or contraception have been inconclusive, and for a good reason: every woman is different. Every cycle can be different.

It can also be beautiful to consider yourself part of the fabric of the natural world. It can be empowering to remember that cultures throughout the world and history have looked up into the night sky and seen a powerful and unabashedly female figure shining down on them. The moon’s waxing phase, as it fills out and brightens the night sky, is an especially vivid symbol of pregnancy and fecundity, which are, of course, directly related to menstruation.

But relying too heavily on the supposed link between menstruation and the moon can be a recipe for heartbreak, both for people trying to achieve pregnancy and those who are actively avoiding it. Instead, turn your gaze inward and, uh, slightly downward: indicators like cervical mucus, basal body temperature and ovulation cramps can be more reliable signs of how your menstrual cycle is progressing.

No matter how you see the moon — whether with scientific interest, or with wonder, or both — it’s hard to deny that its cycles are powerful. But so, too, are women’s menstrual cycles. Just think twice before seeing that correlation of power as one cycle causing the other.

Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-based writer, blogger, sex nerd, cyclist, amateur yogini and co-op housing enthusiast. She can be found at @terrorofthe416 and at http://kaitlynkochany.com.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go… With Your Menstrual Cup!

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

Oh-The-Places-Youll-Go-Front-CoverPeople often ask me, “Can you wear a menstrual cup to yoga?” or “Is it ok to wear a cup while swimming?”

It got me thinking. And reminiscing.

My menstrual cup and I have gone on oh-so-many adventures together. She has been like a trusted friend, keeping me company while I go hither and yon. And you, too, can go places with your menstrual cup!

My menstrual cup and I have gone to yoga. Sure. That one’s easy. We have engaged in any number of physical activities together, including dance class, rock climbing, swimming in lakes, long distance cycling. We have performed on stage together, in small costumes with rigorous movements. Yikes. We have gone camping together – oh, have we gone camping together, at many-a-site. We went on a ten-day backcountry kayaking trip on Lake Superior together, with nary a washroom or human-made building to visit. Instead, we had the beauty and majesty of wild woods, tumultuous water, verdant moss and Canadian Shield.

We have visited Peru, India, Ghana, Arizona and France together, to name a few places. We have gone paragliding together, which was scary for the both of us, but not because of risk of leakage. (No, it was the fear of fall-age that really had us.) We have been camel riding together, unbeknownst to our fair camel. We don’t think he minded.

First dates. Grandfather’s cabin in the woods. Public speaking. Conferences. Boardrooms. Nights out on the town. Farms, cottages, lakes, fields. A honeymoon in a camper van in the Dordogne. We’ve gone there – together. She is more discrete than any pad, heartier than any tampon and more reliable than the two put together – not to mention way more thrifty and conscious about the environment. She’s a cool cat. She is a faithful, quiet travel companion – so imperceptible that most of the time I forget she is there. We have that comfortable silence thing working for us. And yes, my menstrual cup is game for an adventure of any scope or scale.

My guess is that yours is, too. So have no fear, and embrace the adventure together. Go places with your menstrual cup, fearlessly. Or, if you prefer, comfortably.

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

What’s in a Name? A Call for Increased Maternal and Newborn Health Integration

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

This post was originally published on Maternal Health Task Force.

The language that we use is important. The words that we choose to communicate our ideas reveal where our priorities are, and they inform the action that we take as a result of these ideas. Verbiage translates the thoughts and intentions of a person, or persons, to other people and organizations and eventually shapes the action that we take. Because of this, it is crucial that we place mothers—women—at the core of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) from the very moment that we engage in conversation.

Earlier this year, there was an opportunity for a worldwide conversation about the important Every Newborn: An Action Plan to End Preventable Deaths (ENAP). Diverse actors were asked for their input on the first draft in a multi-sectoral consultation. The Action Plan launched on June 30th in Johannesburg, South Africa at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (PMNCH) Partners’ Forum. There has been global colloquy about this plan that, led by WHO and coordinated by a central group of experts, drew on the expertise and insights of stakeholders at multiple global and regional levels. The plan is at once aspirational and practical, with a strong action plan and five guiding principles, as well as milestones and a monitoring framework. Positioned in a global landscape of renewed MNCH commitments and following the Canadian-hosted Saving Every Woman Every Child Summit, this document comes at a crucial moment when there is unified, global momentum towards ending the preventable deaths of the most vulnerable women, newborns and children.

This all sounds great. And it is great. The document is to be applauded, and will mobilize global players towards an imperative goal of ending preventable deaths of the most vulnerable. To come together in open discussion and accelerate the global progress in MNCH is essential and admirable, and the openness to stakeholders’ insights is important. But where is the ‘M’—mother—in the newborn-focused Every Newborn Action Plan? To echo the importance of point 4 of the Maternal Health Task Force’s Manifesto for Maternal Health post-2015, “(T)he successful framework of the continuum of care must be redefined to make women more central to our notions of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health”.

IMG_7399Yes. Let’s make women more central-because they are the core of MNCH, their improved health outcomes directly improve the health of newborns and children, and because they deserve it in their own right, as a human right.

It is important that we reinforce the role of “M” in MNCH so that we can sustain and accelerate the progress that has been realized. ENAP is a strong and important document and is positioned on the continuum of care, and it emphasizes equity with women being integrated throughout the plan. However it is important that we be bolder about bringing women to the fore of the continuum of care.

Placing Women at the Core

A woman as an independent being has value irrespective of her role in MNCH and by positioning her at the centre, we recognize this value and also create health gains that extend to her newborns and children. Diminishing her central role is to devalue her, at a crucial moment when we need to revalue her. This is particularly salient in cultural contexts where a woman’s human rights are disregarded. A woman is not a bystander or vessel moving from stage to stage of the continuum of care, but rather is a central figure whose health and well-being is necessary first and foremost for her own fulfillment. Her health is also essential for the delivery and ongoing health of infants and children who grow to fulfill their own selves, and it is through a woman’s health that we can end preventable deaths.

And so again I restate it: The language that we use is important. By being inclusive of women and bring them to the centre of MNCH, we make a bold statement about our priorities and stand ready to accelerate the health of women, newborns and children. We encourage theoreticians and practitioners in the MNCH space—private, public and civil society sectors alike—to explicitly emphasize the ‘M’ in MNCH. For her newborn, for her community, and for her.

The Woman in the Red Polka Dot Dress

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

dancing-dress-girl-photography-polka-dots-red-hair-Favim.com-41170

Last weekend at a music festival, a foot-stomper of a band was playing while the audience sat in the grass. Heads were swaying, shoulders were a-shimmying, toes were tapping.  Suffice it to say that more than a few of us were itching to dance. Halfway through the song, a woman in a red polka dot dress stood up and started to dance. She twirled and stomped, and one by one every other person got the courage to stand up and dance like they wanted to. Not that sexy-someone-is-watching-me dance. No – this was a sweaty, summery, heart-all-in-it dance.

That same weekend, someone asked me what I think is most important to move menstrual health forward. And the answer came out of my mouth before I had even rationalized it: we need to talk about menstruation. Talk about our bodies, our cycles, our secrets, our monthly frustrations and our moments when we revel in being women.

That was my intuitive response. But later when I thought about it, it turned out that my head agreed with my gut. I do believe that the time is ripe for women and men to discuss menstruation openly, plainly and respectfully. And even – dare I say it? – with humour. Otherwise it continues to be a dirty little secret that we all know happens, but that we scarcely acknowledge. It seems that this is how sex used to be hidden away several decades ago, and collectively we have brought sex into the public forum. Menstruation continues to be stigmatized in every culture of the world. Which, in this writer’s humble opinion, infuses the topic of menstruation with an intrinsic sense of shame, maybe even to the most proud period-er.

What I have noticed is that when I – a devout discusser of periods – raise the topic of menstruation in a straightforward manner, other women follow suit. When women learn that my pride-and-joy baby is the menstrual health organization Mother Nature Partnership, they often open up and ask questions they haven’t felt comfortable asking before. (“Can I have sex with a cup in? Is it bad if I feel uncomfortable emptying the cup? Can I wear it to yoga class? What do I do if my menstrual cup gets stuck inside of me?!”) Before you know it, we are swapping stories, or asking questions, or laughing about an embarrassing cup incident that haunts us still. In that moment, what was private becomes shared.

And that is what this brand spanking new blog is designed to be: a no-holds-barred, happy, inquisitive and supportive place to talk about anything – and everything – menstruation. It is a woman in a red polka dot dress, being the first one to stand up and dance.

Irene Whittaker-Cumming is the Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership, a powerhouse menstrual health organization that is the recipient of a Nelson Mandela Graça Machel Innovation Award and a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant. MNP is bringing menstrual hygiene knowledge and tools to women and girls, so they can make personal choices about their own bodies.