END THE STIGMA: Menstruation, Contraception and other Topics in Female Health

FORUM 26.09.2017

Action Item

This week we asked forum attendees to log onto globalcitizen.org and sign the She Decides Manifesto. She Decides is a global movement to ensure every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, with her life, and with her future. This right affects her personal development, her participation in society, her livelihood and whether her family and community thrives. We felt that this short article and action item was an excellent introduction to the topics we would be discussing throughout forum, most notably, how women’s access to healthcare impacts their upward mobility in their respective communities throughout the world.

This Week’s Conversation

Introduction

Red stickers were given to 7 members of the group as they came in. These group members were called to the front and asked to draw a country out of a hat. An example of the menstruation laws or traditions in each country was then given, for example…

United States: Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union took up the case of Alisha Coleman, a woman who had been fired from her job as a 911 operator, a job she had held for 10 years, after having two accidental period leaks. The employer cited a lack of professionalism as the reason for Coleman’s dismissal. Immediately after being fired, Coleman processed her case through the equal employment commission and was given clearance to sue for sex discrimination; however, the judge dismissed her suit saying that Coleman had not provided sufficient reasoning for a sex discrimination suit. It was at this point that the ACLU stepped in and the case will be brought the Federal Court of Appeals.

Read more stories of periods around the world here: https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/periods-around-the-world

Discussion centred around which traditions seemed unsafe for the people menstruating and which may just seem distasteful to us, but not to those living in the countries in which they originate:

“Potentially these traditions seem strange or unfair to us because of our Western-centric view, when really many women who live in these places are used to them.”

Case Studies

The room was split up into groups based on interest in the following case studies in female health. The challenge was to read the background information in the study and determine some form of solution to the problem. The solutions were summarized in posters or infographics on Canva.com and presented to the group.

o   STUDY 1; ABORTION RIGHTS IN EL SAVADOR 

Background: El Salvador has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. In 1998 abortion became illegal in all circumstances, without exception, punishable by up to eight years in prison. This includes circumstances in which rape or incest was involved or those in which the woman’s life is in danger. Also included is cases in which the fetus may be severely impaired. Recent cases of Zika virus in the region has exacerbated this problem. Zika virus is a virus which can cause fetus’ of infected pregnant women to be born with microcephaly causing severe brain abnormalities. It may also cause miscarriage. Sentences of up to 30 years have been given when the abortion was deemed “homicide” by the judge. Maria Teresa Rivera, a famous case of mistreatment, was sentenced to 40 years in prison when she miscarried, she was released after 4 years.

Solution: The group decided to attempt to slowly remove some of the stigma surrounding abortion in El Salvador, especially in cases of maternal health risk. However, the group was more focused on increasing birth control use in the area, as this may better fit with the cultural norms in the region and may be a more effective solution.

 

o   STUDY 2; TRANS MEN x MENSTRUATION 

Background: Many trans-men menstruate, it’s important to understand that menstruation is not inherently a woman’s problem. Trans-men often face discomfort or fear during their period. “Most women have a hard time talking about their periods, and it is that much worse for trans men,” says DeVuyst, who identifies as a trans male, born into a female body, but identifying as a masculine man. “Here I was trying to live a life as a trans man, yet I had my period every month. I’d be in the mens bathroom with guys around me peeing while I changed my tampon. It made my discomfort with my body that much worse.”

Solution: The group determined a solution in which they aimed to raise awareness for problems facing trans men, making sexual education in school more accessible to all by stopping the separation of females and males during lessons, making ads for menstrual products more gender neutral.

o   STUDY 3; ABORTION ACCESS IN IRELAND

Background: In Northern Ireland, obtaining an abortion is punishable by a life sentence, which is the strictest criminal penalty for abortion in Europe. In Ireland, women could face a 14-year prison sentence, according to Amnesty International. Ireland has a near-total ban on abortion, including in cases of rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormalities. In the early 1980s, fearing that it could be legalized via the courts, the country’s Catholic hierarchy pushed for an amendment to be added to the constitution. The Eighth Amendment passed in 1983 and granted a fetus equal right to life as its mother, effectively outlawing abortion in all circumstances.

Solution: The group created an awareness campaign surrounding the imprisonment of a young woman who was raped and became pregnant after her mother attempted to help her get to the U.K to access abortion. The campaign was focused on the slogan “Would you want your daughter to be imprisoned?” and would attempt to sway citizens to vote for more fair abortion laws in the upcoming referendum.

 

o   STUDY 4; ACCESSIBLE MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS IN NIGERIA

Background: In Nigeria, menstruation is considered taboo and shrouded in silence. Young girls and women face harsh social taboos and negative social norms that limit their access to menstrual hygiene products and subsequently their ability to participate in society. Currently, sixty-five percent of women and girls can’t afford disposable sanitary pads. As an alternative, many women and girls choose to use a cloth instead which needs to be hand washed and dried regularly to avoid infection. If cloth is not available, women might resort to bark and dirt to absorb the menstrual blood. Girls often choose not to go to school due to the fear of their blood being visible. Often, after continually missing one week out of every month of school, the girls fall behind, and subsequently, drop out.

Solution: The solution was to create accessible reusable menstrual underwear which women in Nigeria could wash without fearing social taboos. The group created an awareness campaign surrounding the reusable menstrual underwear to attempt to dispel some of the taboos in the area. These underwear could be worn during menstruation and would allow girls to attend school while menstruating.

 

o   STUDY 5; CONDOM USE IN THE PHILIPPINES

Background: In the Philippines, 85% of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, a religion which discourages the use of contraceptives including condoms. As a result, the Philippines has some of the lowest condom usage rates in the world along with some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. HIV/AIDS rates are low in the country but are the fastest growing in the world, increasing 42% from 2014 to 2015 predominately amongst young people.   

Solution: The group focused on the health side of using condoms, instead of the contraceptive side, in an awareness campaign to attempt to persuade citizens to use condoms and decrease HIV rates.

 

o   STUDY 6; FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IN SOMALIA

Background:  The World Health Organization defines Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Somalia has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world with 95% of girls currently between the ages of 4 and 11 and 98% of the total female population having undergone some form of FGM. The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. In many settings, health care providers perform FGM due to the erroneous belief that the procedure is safer when medicalized. FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. Generally speaking, risks increase with increasing severity of the procedure.

Solution: The group decided that the best way to improve health of the women in the area was to create hospitals or health clinics in which FGM could be carried out safely. They decided that whether or not this was legal it would still happen, and it is better if it happens in a safe place than done somewhere with the high possibility for infection. The group discussed the strong cultural prevalence of the procedure and decided that the best way to tackle the problem is to work with, not against, cultural norms.

Takeaway

Our big takeaway for this week’s forum was to highlight the healthcare challenges women around the globe face and how these challenges erect barriers for women’s equal access to education, employment, participation within their communities etc. We also wanted to take this opportunity to discuss possible strategies in combating the stigma surrounding female health. We were thrilled to see our attendees thinking so critically and sensitively about their approaches to tackling these issues, particularly in their recognition of the western bias we as Canadians carry.

Get Involved

If you’re looking to get involved with female health initiatives on campus here are some clubs to check out!

  • Queen’s Health Outreach
  • Queen’s Sexual Health Resource Centre
  • Girls Inc. at Queen’s
  • MEDLIFE Queen’s

 

Further Reading

Abortion Rights in El Salvador:

Menstruation x Trans Men

Accessible Menstrual Products in Nigeria

Encourage the use of condoms in the Philippines

Stop FGM in Somalia:

FORUM: TUESDAYS @ 5:30 / JOHN ORR, JDUC

Our Goal

“Our goal with forum is to provide a safe, informative, judgement free space to discuss a variety of issues within development. As part of our introductory forum, we went over some terms and concepts that have been used frequently in previous years. That being said, we don’t want the fear of using a wrong term to ever be a barrier to discussion! We want everyone who comes to forum to feel comfortable expressing themselves in whatever way they see most fit. If this means not always using language that is the most politically correct, that’s okay! If you ever hear something you don’t understand, ask – if you’re confused, it’s probably safe to assume there are at least three other people in the room just as lost as you are. No question is too simple or too complex and you will never be judged for trying to grow in your understanding. If you do hear someone using an inaccurate or outdated term and you would like to correct them, please do so in a helpful and informative way as opposed to using an accusatory tone. While it is important to recognize that words carry with them a certain weight, it is also crucial that we remember everyone here is coming from vastly different backgrounds with varying degrees of development knowledge but that we all share a common desire to learn, grow, and make a difference.”

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