charity

Why You Should CoppaFeel!

As this is the last piece of this year’s sex ed week, I would love to begin by saying thank you to everyone who has supported the project through reading, sharing, and generally showing interest. It means a lot for us to be able to share our knowledge and our opinions on something we consider to be of vital importance. If we help anyone at all, we’ll be over the moon. Equally, we’d love to hear how you think we can improve, and what we can do next year to make the project bigger and better.

Moving on, I do have one last piece for all you wonderful people! The rest of this article is dedicated to the lovely people at CoppaFeel!, who were kind enough to set aside some time and talk to us. If you don’t know, CoppaFeel! are a breast cancer awareness charity doing excellent work in the UK. Last year, I had a chat with their Education and Health Comms Director, Sophie, who caught me up on what they do, as well as how we can look after ourselves. To begin, Sophie told us to check out the rethinkcancer.com site, and to watch some of the CoppaFeel! videos, that help introduce them as a charity (things you should do too).

First off, we discussed the curriculum surrounding breast cancer awareness and sex education at present, and how it’s lacking. As you all already know, this is something I’m passionate about, and it was nice to see it resonated in larger organisations. The improvement of education of this nature is severely lacking, and that’s why we started this project in the first place.

We also discussed how CoppaFeel! have managed to get around the curriculum by deploying their fabulous Boobettes to schools. These guys have been delivering talks to schools, offices and girl-guide groups, and have spread their message far and wide through volunteers, and that’s pretty damn cool. These talks have helped a great deal in getting people to feel more comfortable around the conversation and to go home and start checking themselves.

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The foundation of CoppaFeel! seemed to be that breast cancer wasn’t on young people’s minds, and was something we considered to be a later-in-life sort of situation. But it isn’t. Breast cancer can strike anyone, at any age, of any gender. We don’t worry about it because we don’t think we need to, and CoppaFeel! are out to pop that bubble, ensuring we are all kept safe and healthy.

Their main goal is to encourage younger people (but ultimately everyone) to check their breasts regularly. They want to encourage as many healthy habits like this as they can. The key here, is knowing your own body. Like any serious illness, the symptoms vary from person to person, and as such knowing what is normal for your own body is essential. Get comfortable with yourself, and know what your body does and doesn’t do (check out their #WhatNormalFeelsLike campaign for this one!).

Since a lot of our readers (hello you!) are younger, it makes a great deal of sense for us to push CoppaFeel!’s Uni Boob Teams. At the time I chatted to Sophie, I was still a uni student so she offered links to the team that I could send out to my friends wanting to get involved. If you want to do something worthwhile at uni, and still have masses of fun, join the Uni Boob Team for CoppaFeel!. They’re a lovely community of student volunteers that run around in boob costumes, making boob cakes and telling everyone to check their own. What more do you want?

In the end, this was a lovely enlightening chat to have had with CoppaFeel!, and I’m immensely grateful to them for making the time to talk to me. They brought to my attention that empowerment and confidence walk hand in hand with all of this. It honestly hadn’t struck me before, but it makes sense; if you know your body, and you trust your body, then you hold the secret to being happy with it. Body confidence, as an issue, is a raging fire that no-one seems to have the power to put out, but perhaps if we all took a little longer taking care of ourselves, and noticing how we are made, we might help each other too.

Ultimately, my chat with CoppaFeel! instilled in me some very simple things, that I (and all of you) need to be reminded of. My brain was filled with messages of empowerment, and confidence. I understood that I should learn to know and trust my own body, and to listen to what it was telling me, and to see a doctor if things weren’t right. It is not a waste of time. It is important.

So visit CoppaFeel!’s website, or via their social channels to stay up to date with their boob-antics, and look after yourself, above all. Thank you all again for indulging us in this project, we hope we have inspired you, helped you, or perhaps just interested you. With any luck, we’ll see you again next September.

Love, Anthem xo

 

Words by Briony Brake, with help from CoppaFeel!
Part of September Sex Education Week, 2017.
Images and videos by CoppaFeel!

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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

Q&A: Oxford Dignity Drive

Hello to the gang at Oxford Dignity Drive! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves; who you are and what you all do?

In March 2015, Dignity Drive was set up by Wadham College students Rachel Besenyei and Niamh McIntyre, to raise awareness and combat period poverty! This took the form of an initial week of fundraising events, and a drive for donations of sanitary products which were then delivered to homeless shelters, and refuges around Oxford. We (Laura, Issy, and Hannah-Lily) took over last summer., and since then we have been raising more funds, and distributing products around Oxford. 

Why are you working for this cause? Do you believe it to be an international issue?

The issue of period poverty is especially prevalent in the UK at the moment because of the current government’s massive cuts to homelessness services, which often hit women harder. There has been a 50% cut in services since 2010, and in that time homelessness in the UK has doubled.

The lack of sanitary products for women is often talked about as the ‘unseen’ side of homelessness, and so even when people donate to food banks, often they just don’t consider it. Periods remain a taboo subject across the world, but we are focusing on Oxford in particular because of the widely acknowledged issue of homelessness in the city.

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So what do the Oxford Dignity Drive do to help?

In 2015 we ran a week of events aimed to raise awareness around the unspoken issue of period poverty, including film screenings, panel events, and an exhibition. Increasing the discussion around menstruation as a means of combatting this taboo is vital, and we hope that by doing so it will become part of every discussion surrounding homelessness.

The other major work we do is raising money, and taking physical donations. Recently we have been raising funds through union motions, and then delivering them as soon as we can to food banks and refuges in Oxfordshire. As necessary as raising awareness is, we know that this is a tangible, urgent issue, and so our aim is to provide resources as quickly as possible.

Tell us about some of these events that you’ve been holding, or plans you have!

Last term we worked on diversifying the places we donate to, and identified that there was a potential issue in that homeless shelters are predominantly used by men. So we contacted a number of women’s refuges, and are now aiming to help them too. We’ve also been continuing to raise awareness through social media, and are planning some more events, as well as a week-long drive in mid-February. You can follow our Facebook page to keep up-to-date, and watch this space!

What would you ask of local residents to do in support?

If you’re thinking about donating to food banks or shelters, make sure you include sanitary products as well as food products (this can include toiletries too, they’re all greatly appreciated!).

Spread the word, confront the taboo, and tell all your friends about Dignity Drive!

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Perhaps on a more national scale, what can everyone do to help?

It’s really the same as above; there is a nationwide campaign called #thehomelessperiod which has a big petition, and takes just 10 seconds to sign. There are also a number of regional campaigns doing the same as us – at universities in particular – so check whether your university has one, and if not you could consider setting one up! We can help, so please get in touch if you would like any advice.

Would you like to say anything else to the lovely Anthem readers?

We would like you to help us in raising awareness around period poverty. Whether it’s sharing an article, telling your friends, or making donations to food banks yourself. We are always looking for more people to help Oxford Dignity Drive as well, so locals to the area can contact us on Facebook, and we’ll let you know how to get involved.

Lastly, we will always continue trying to combat this issue, but ultimately we are picking up the slack of deficient government services. Write to your MP, and be considerate of any party’s policies surrounding homelessness when making personal political choices!

Sanitary products are not a luxury – they are a necessity. 

 

Oxford Dignity Drive do some great work, and you can keep learning about their work, and what you can do via the following:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oxdignitydrive/?fref=ts 
GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/sfdprg

Words by Briony Brake with responses from the team at Oxford Dignity Drive
Images by Oxford Dignity Drive