Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer. I just never imagined I would write about sexual assault! Instead, I imagined traveling the world to research “The 25 Most Adventurous Vacations.” Maybe I’d create a brightly colored board book about baby hippos who wear polkadot tutus. I thought the world of writing would be full of excitement, fun and whimsy!
But sometimes our life’s journey makes other choices for us. Choosing to be happy means choosing to embrace the unchosen topics that come our way. So here’s another unchosen topic that has grabbed ahold of me recently: menstrual hygiene in Africa.
My involvement came about because of my memoir, RUINED. One of the biblical texts that helped me recover from rape was the story of Jesus healing the woman with an issue of blood (Mark 5:21-43). I wrote a devotional about this passage for Christianity Today in April 2017.
A couple of weeks later I preached on this text at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, NY. During the sermon I mentioned that bleeding women (i.e. menstruating women) still suffer stigma in many parts of the world, especially Africa. This is the reason girls so often quit school at puberty. It’s not just that they can’t attend class the five or so days of their flow — the fear of bleeding, and lack of products to manage the bleeding, creates intense shame.
Yes, I talked about Shame because I’ve developed a sensitive Shame thermometer! When it’s hanging in the air, I want to register it. But I want to be more than a Shame thermometer, measuring what our culture does to women. I want to become a Shame thermostat. I want to lower the temperature of Shame.
Fortunately, there are a number of organizations working to make a difference in Africa. Most often they help villagers sew reusable menstrual products. They often involve the whole community, including the men, which greatly reduces the shame and stigma of menstruation. This is important work.
Here are two organizations I am becoming acquainted with:
The MoonCatcher Project based in Schenectady, NY. This organization makes and teachers others to make MoonCatchers — reusable, durable menstrual pads with highly absorbent inserts. The Project delivers the pads to poor communities throughout the world, often along with health and hygiene classes.
Days for Girls I love their slogan: “Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.” They are working around the globe to provide sustainable feminine hygiene solutions and health education, because when girls and women have health, education, and opportunity, communities and our world are stronger.
Have you been involved with these projects or others? The women at Westminster in Albany NY are extending their web through Presbyterian Women. This is exactly how women change the world!