Author: rowanduval

Teaching Menstrual Hygiene in Zambia

Last year, I spent a month volunteering in Zambia as a part of a student-led, nationwide charity called SKIP. The aim of the project, which has been running for 5 years now, was to teach local primary schools about sex education. The initiative passes on knowledge and materials to teachers and runs information sessions on STIs and HIV to women’s groups. By educating children and women in these topics, we aim to increase people’s knowledge within the community, giving them the means of protecting themselves.

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When I arrived at my first school I was given a government-issued textbook on sex education and a guide to what I should teach. I was so shocked by what I read. The books included phrases like ‘it is important to make yourself look nice for boys’, and included lists of desired characteristics for girls such as ’gentle, kind, good cook’. It seemed to me as though the country was decades behind our own, and I suddenly felt very overwhelmed. However, as I stood in the barely furnished, dusty classroom with that textbook in-hand, I looked around at my class and felt so driven to make a change.

My most successful, and potentially life-changing topics were periods and Project Mwezi. The so-called ‘tampon tax’ has been very present in the news recently, and rightly so as menstruation is far from a luxury. However, without access to sanitary products such as tampons, it can also be life-threatening. Despite being the most natural process for a woman, the presence of taboo in other countries severely undermines their rights; in Africa, 1 in 10 girls skip school during their period, and in India, 70% of all reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.

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Women and girls are prevented from completing their education and are even socially excluded throughout puberty. They are denied access to water and sanitation facilities when they most desperately need them. As a result, women turn to unsafe materials such as old newspapers and leaves to manage their period. Poor management of menstrual wellbeing is not only damaging to physical health but also mental health. That’s what makes campaigns such as Project Mwezi and Dignity Period so vital to developing countries. They teach women how to make low-cost, reusable sanitary pads from easily accessible materials. This knowledge not only helps them in the short-term, but gives the resources needed to teach these skills for generations, and even set up businesses by making and selling the pads.

However, this is not the only resolution. A key piece of the puzzle for changing attitudes surrounding the issue lies in educating men and boys. It is equally important to generate understanding amongst them so they can support their sisters, mothers and wives, and help remove the taboo surrounding menstruation. This begins with sex education in schools, something which is poorly under-taught and often sexist. As a society, we need to work alongside NGOs and other charitable foundations to open up conversations surrounding menstrual wellbeing, and create a world in which every individual is given the opportunity to have control over their own bodies.

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All I can do is hope that I empowered those girls in my classes even to the smallest degree. To hope that they went home after school and shared their knowledge with their mother, sisters and cousins. To hope that enabling those girls to attend school a few more days a month is one small step towards gender equality in Zambia.

Until then I continue to support SKIP and other charities to make sure the message that #MenstruationMatters is heard.

 

 

Words by Rowan Duval-Fryer
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.
Images from SKIP and Femme International

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Recipe: White Chocolate, Raspberry and Pistachio Traybake

This recipe sounds and tastes very impressive, but is actually just a plain cake mix with a few delicious ingredients stirred in. This means that the recipe can easily be tailored to your tastes. For example, you could change the nuts to walnuts, or omit them entirely; you could change the type of chocolate, or mix up the fruit. One of my favourite variations is to add a teaspoon of mixed spice, chopped pecans, apple and apricot. Just remember that if you’re adding extra wet ingredients you’ll need to compensate by adding more dry ingredients, and vice versa. Tray bakes are perfect for students because they don’t require special equipment, or any assembly, and I find that the cooking time is often minimal.

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Ingredients

For the cake mix:

  • 130g butter or margarine
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 2 medium sized eggs, lightly beaten
  • 130g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • A pinch of salt
  • 50g Pistachios, smashed/chopped into pieces
  • 75g Raspberries (I use frozen as they are much cheaper!)
  • 125g White chocolate (chips or bars roughly chopped up)

For the topping:

  • 50g White Chocolate
  • 50g Pistachios

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Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees (no fan). Grease a large baking tray, preferably one with deep sides. If washing up is not one of your talents and the tray is a little worse for wear, then I would consider lining it with baking paper.

  2. In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until they form a soft mixture, light in colour. Next, add in about a tablespoon of the whisked egg mixture and beat in. Continue to do so until all the egg is incorporated. If the mixture starts to curdle (i.e. look a little lumpy) beat in a spoonful of flour. Then sift in the flour and salt, and fold into the mixture.  Add the milk and stir in.

  3. At this point, you can begin to add whatever flavourings or extra ingredients that you want. For this recipe, fold in the white chocolate chunks and crushed pistachios. Then pour the mixture in the prepped tin. After this, poke in the raspberries so they are evenly distributed across the cake and slightly covered by the mix.
  4. Put in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes until it is golden brown on top, and a knife comes out clean when poked into the middle. If the top of the cake is browning too quickly you can either move the cake onto a lower shelf or cover the top with a sheet of foil.

  5.  Once removed from the oven, leave to cool. I like to top the cake with swirls of melted white chocolate and trim the edges with more crushed pistachios and then cut into slices.

 

Words and photos courtesy of Rowan Duval-Fryer