Periods & The City
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Periods & The City

by Madeleine Shaw
Periods & The City
We are just back from an amazing whirlwind trip to New York, which not-so-surprisingly happened to coincide with me having my period, not to mention a bouquet of other menstrual-related goings-on.

While it was a short trip, Suzanne artfully lined up (thanks to Twitter!) a lunch engagement with Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a lawyer and journalist (who wrote about the challenges the homeless face while menstruating) leading the No #TamponTax (all menstrual products, actually - “tampon” is just catchier) movement in the US. We were proud to share with Jennifer our friend Jill Piebak’s success with doing this very thing in Canada last year with her Canadian Menstruators campaign!

Menstrual Equity Activist Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

Over a bowl of Japanese ramen, we discussed the current state of the menstrual revolution and recognition that 2015 was a banner year. Always grateful to meet like-minded colleagues who share our values, we left feeling honored to meet such a trail blazing feminist activist.

But it didn’t end there: the following day, Jennifer kindly invited us to an event hosted by WaterAid (the #1 ranked international nonprofit dedicated to clean water and sanitation) called “cocktails + periods + empowerment” - how could we refuse?

The event offered an opportunity to hear the powerful firsthand story of WaterAid’s Associate Director of Philanthropy Cecile Shresta’s journey to Nepal (she is part Nepali, raised in the US) with NPR journalist Jane Greenhalgh. Their purpose was to investigate the practice of chaupadi - a brutal cultural practice that effectively punishes girls in rural areas for menstruating. The article was NPR’s third most popular story in 2015.

WaterAid's Cecile Shrestha, Cosmopolitan's Sara Austin and HelloFlo Founder Naama Bloom at cocktails + periods + empowerment event February 25 2016, New York City

Cecile shared the story of Kamala, a 14 year old girl who refused to cross the doorframe to meet Cecile and Jane due to the belief that the fact that she was menstruating would effectively poison them. Kamala and her peers are relegated to a filthy, roofless hut located outside the village while menstruating, where they are vulnerable to snakes, as well as human vermin.

The stories are echoed by Tashi Dolma, a 20 year-old Nepali woman originally from a remote Himalayan village. She was fortunately able to go to school in Kathmandu, and subsequently sponsored by a Canadian family to complete her university undergrad degree in BC. She joined the Lunapads team as an Intern during the summer of 2015, with the goal of starting an MHM (Menstrual Hygiene Management) business in Nepal following her graduation.

Madeleine and Tashi Dolma sewing pads, Summer 2015

The panel discussion, moderated by HelloFlo Founder Naama Bloom, also included Cosmopolitan Magazine Senior Deputy Editor Sara Austin. Cosmo’s championing of women’s health is nothing new, however their October 2015 article, “Surf the New Wave: Cosmo’s Guide to the Modern Period” - which included stories about the struggles of  homeless menstruators - powerfully and creatively brought the period issue to mainstream attention, earning them a 2016 National Magazine Award nomination.

It was fascinating to witness a conversation that included the diverse situations of Kamala and her sisters, homeless menstruators in New York, and the ever-widening conversation around menstruation in mainstream culture. “Periods are not optional, whether you are an adolescent girl, homeless or a trans man” noted Sara, offering an unambiguous argument about the unfairness of the tampon tax. We love it that Cosmopolitan Magazine is also leading the no #TamponTax petition.

Meeting Naama was another highlight: her groundbreaking “Camp Gyno” video is legendary in our world. As she put it, her simple goal in creating the video was to “share a story about a girl who was actually proud and happy to get her period.” The resulting 11 million views and counting is a clear statement that she was not alone. She has since built what started as a monthly period product subscription business into a full-blown media company, also tackling postpartum, menopause, bladder leakage and other issues with her trademark openness and humour.

As a final confirmation that we were absolutely in the right place at the right time, the next day we were struck by Willem De Kooning’s painting “Woman” on prominent display at the gorgeous new Whitney museum of American Art. Her colourful and energetic curves and prominent red belly were a perfect final touch to an amazing journey. Thanks New York, for showing us a bloody good time!

Main Image: Willem De Kooning's "Woman", Whitney museum of American Art

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