experience

What To Expect At A Smear Test

I’d like to start by saying that this is only my experience and that everyone’s experience of getting a smear test will be different.

A smear test (medically known as a cervical screening) is used to check your cervix for cell changes, which can be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). In the UK, you are invited for your first smear test at the age of 25, and if your results are normal, you should get a smear test every 3 years. I remember receiving my letter in the post inviting me to my smear test a couple of months before my 25th birthday two years ago. I knew it was coming and I called my GP to book myself in more or less straight away, having read horror stories about people putting it off with dire consequences.

I didn’t really feel too nervous until I was in the waiting room. I had wondered if it would hurt, given that there is still a silly amount of scaremongering about smear tests. Before being invited for my test, I didn’t know much about how it all works, so I did a bit of reading before to prepare myself. As a sexual assault survivor, I was somewhat anxious about being triggered, but I was able to keep reminding myself how important it was and I managed to put those feelings aside until the actual procedure. One thing I advise if you are a survivor is telling the practitioner who will be carrying out your screening. You don’t have to give details but it is helpful to let them know because then they can support you and know to expect that it might be a difficult experience for you.

The actual screening itself usually consists of you lying on a bed and bending your legs with your ankles together and knees apart – sometimes there will be stirrups but I didn’t have them in my appointment. A lubricated speculum is inserted into your vagina to allow the practitioner to see your cervix. Once the practitioner has a good view of the cervix, they use a small brush to take a sample of cells from it. This is the part that I’d heard everyone complain about. Personally, I found the speculum the most uncomfortable part, but I didn’t find it painful. The actual brushing part lasted about three seconds and felt a little weird and uncomfortable, but again I didn’t find painful at all.

The nurse talked me through everything she was doing, which I had requested due to my past experiences. It is good practice for the practitioner to talk you through the procedure anyway unless you request not to be told. My legs were shaking like crazy to start with, but mentally I managed to get myself in the zone. The whole screening lasted a few minutes and I was honestly surprised at how quickly it was over. It’s normal to have a little bit of spotting afterwards, but you shouldn’t experience any pain – if you do, then get in touch with a doctor. 

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I got my results in a letter after a couple of weeks and they were normal. Occasionally they will find abnormal or pre-cancerous cells, which results in either another screening or a colposcopy appointment, followed by treatment. 1 in 20 people will have abnormal results, but less than 1% of these people will have cervical cancer, so try not to panic if you’re told you have abnormal results (easier said than done, I know).

It’s very easy to put off booking your smear, but it is incredibly important. More than 99% of cervical cancer cases are preventable. Your smear test isn’t a test for cancer, but it is a test to help prevent cancer. Anyone with a cervix is at risk of developing cervical cancer, especially aged 25 to 49. This applies if you’ve had the HPV vaccine, if you’ve only had one sexual partner, if you’re lesbian or bisexual, and so on. As I said above, my experience is only one of many, and I had a good experience. Not everyone will have a perfect experience, but at the least, you can be reassured that it doesn’t last more than 5 minutes.

If you’re super nervous about your smear test, definitely check out the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website (linked below); they have some fab tips for how you can prepare and how you can make the experience as easy as possible. But whatever you do, please don’t put it off!

Helpful links:

  • Zoe Sugg has just started a ‘Smear Series’ on her IGTV where she’s filmed her experience
  • Katie Snooks’ YouTube video covers her experience with cervical screening, her abnormal results and the treatment she had for this. There are a plethora of YouTube videos of people’s experiences with smear tests.
  • Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has info on what cervical screening is, results, the procedure, etc.
  • The NHS website has easy-to-read info about cervical screenings
  • Cancer Research Statistics for more statistics like those used in this article


Words by Amber Berry for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online
Image from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

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Woefully Underprepared

It’s no secret that I’ve been underwhelmed by the sex education I received – in fact, the title sums up how it’s left me feeling pretty accurately. I was not prepared at all. What’s worse is that I had a pretty good sex education compared to friends and family members, and still felt underprepared.

I was lucky enough (and worked very hard) to get into a pretty good girls school. This meant they hired sex education professionals to come in once every few years instead of just using science teachers. It meant plastic models instead of bananas (wild). Most importantly, it meant an environment in which some girls felt comfortable asking questions (if they didn’t mind the other girls talking about them after).

It came to my attention recently that I can even recall my class briefly being talked to about sending nudes and the element of technology in our sexual education. I mentioned this to multiple people who couldn’t believe I’d had such a comprehensive education.

I know I’m lucky to have had this level of support and resource but really, it’s not good enough, is it? I’m pretty sure the most useful things I’ve learned have been from a TV show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW/Netflix). I shouldn’t be learning about my sexual health from a TV show, should I?

That’s the thing here at Anthem, we want to talk about how sex ed should be; how amazing, inclusive, and empowering it could be for everyone. It could be great, and that’s why it matters to us. This week is all about the writers at Anthem putting in our experiences and the lessons we learned the hard way to make it easier for somebody else, it doesn’t matter who.

I have become more and more passionate about sex education as time has gone on and so it’s a genuine joy to be able to do this project year after year. It’s not just indulgent for me but also a learning experience. In three years, I have learned so much and I have had my curiosity encouraged by articles posted right here. I just hope you all feel the same way.

This year is our third September Sex Education Week and me, Lara, Amber, Eleanor and Sian will be sharing our stories and insight, and offering our advice. We want readers to go away feeling informed and interested, and sometimes just to feel that they aren’t alone in their experience. We are often talking about previously-taboo subjects on here, and if we can make just one person feel comforted then we’ll be happy.

There’s an article for every day of this week and I can’t wait to share them all with you. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (wherever you fancy) to stay in the loop.

Huge, sexy, excited love,
Briony


Words by Briony Brake for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online.

How Can We Be Better Allies To The LGBTQ+ Community?

As a straight, white feminist, it can be really easy to just focus on your own problems and disadvantages, but it’s common knowledge that we can’t all move forward when half of us are being held back. Equality can’t ever be achieved if we don’t work together to boost everyone up so we ought to start closing that gap. 

As it’s Pride month in the UK, I wanted to focus on some of the injustices faced by women within the LGBTQ+ community. Someone I know pointed out just how frustrating gay clubs can be, especially when taken over by straight women trying to escape the sometimes literal clutches of straight men in straight clubs. When it’s pointed out, you realise how unhelpful you’re being in what should be a safe place for a community you’re not a part of. It was also pointed out to me that even gay clubs weren’t particularly welcoming to lesbians or bi women. It was pretty disconcerting to hear that they can’t even enjoy clubs intended for their use and it got me thinking. I decided I would try to learn a little more.

I reached out to friends and to colleagues,one of whom actually teased me, knowingly asking why I had chosen to question her instead of others I worked with. I wanted to know how a straight person could make a good – or just a better – ally. We need to band together properly, so I asked for the community’s opinions and tips, and here’s what I got back…

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LILY ANN PROCELLA 

“A  couple of simple things are calling out homophobia/transphobia if you see it. Often it is left up to the victims to call this behaviour out which is not a position everyone can accept for a whole host of reasons. Solidarity feels good because (from my experience) when you are lgbt/closeted etc it is incredibly isolating and there aren’t too many examples of people standing up to this discrimination in popular culture, straight or otherwise so it feels like you against the world. If your workplace or colleagues don’t respect other people’s identities or insufficient training is provided try suggesting training is provided. If someone tells you their pronoun, refer to them with that pronoun and treat them with respect. It can feel uncomfortable at first but it is way better to suffer slight discomfort than to invalidate someone else’s whole identity.

Others are; donating to or volunteering at local homeless shelters as not everyone is accepted by their family and there are a lot of homeless lgbtq+ people in the UK at the moment and not too many specialised services. Donating time or money to organisations or even just sharing news articles and petitions that are related to the community would be awesome. Try to respect that there may be lgbtq+ spaces where it is purely for the community not allies. These spaces can be vital in giving people who suffer discrimination and misunderstanding on a daily basis some much needed breathing room, in a similar way to how we have women/nb only spaces it comes down to celebrating yourself and connecting with others in a safe space. It’s not personal, and getting offended thinking you are being excluded can be very invalidating to people within the community. Also taking some time to research art, film, books by lgbtq artists and supporting them is a rewarding way to be an ally. I think a lot of lgbtq+ people feel like straight allies get involved for the big events like pride and that’s great but we need support in the small scale everyday stuff too so try to be a year-round ally not just a seasonal one. Pick just one thing you’re going to try to do for the next year/month etc that will help the community and try to do it”


LARA SCOTT

“My only note in terms of being an ally would be not to ask about labels straight away. Especially if your friend is having a new experience. I sometimes think the worst question to ask a queer person is: so what are you? It put a lot of pressure on that person. I think the best way to be an ally is just to listen to your friends story & their experience.”

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REBECCA [surname removed for anonymity]

“Education of what LGBTQA+ is and all the differences etc. It’s still not massively talked about in secondary school, and why is labelling so important. Respect each other as fellow humans and not see differences. Most of the shit I have is from people from a different generation that don’t see it’s okay to be gay.”

AMBER BERRY

“One huge thing I want to emphasise is for people to be inclusive of bi* and pan* people. Despite us being a huge part of why pride even came about in the first place, and despite us being a large percentage of the LGBTQ+ population, so often we are missed out of conversations. This includes things like not assuming that two people who are together and masc presenting or femme presenting are always gay.

Another thing I’d say is that straight and cis folks should do their reading. Educating yourself is a great way to become a better ally. Sometimes I’m more than willing to help folks understand the bi/queer experience but other times I don’t want to because it’s exhausting and because I struggle with mental illness. Straight people can’t always rely on LGBT folks to educate them. A really good way of integrating LGBTQ+ content into your life could be watching YouTube creators, podcasters and by following/supporting people on Instagram. Not necessarily just reading books or articles!

Lastly to be aware that there are people who are LGBTQ+ and also POC or disabled or other far more marginalised identities than the average white gay man, and their voices should be amplified and supported.”

I am hugely grateful to all of the women who were kind enough to explain things to me and to share their own experiences and advice. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope you have to. To everyone in the UK enjoying pride, don’t forget to take note of the above advice, and to support the community all year round, through times of struggles as well as in celebration. Happy Pride everyone.

Words by Briony Brake with interviews from Lily Ann Procella, Lara Scott, Rebecca and Amber Berry for Anthem Online.
Images from Briony Brake and Lara Scott.

 

Let’s talk about cysts, baby.

In recent years, crippling conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovaries have become more widely discussed thanks to women such as Lena Dunham talking about their experiences. The increasing awareness of these conditions is fantastic and needs to continue, yet very often, little is spoken about their cousin – dermoid cysts.

Dermoid ovarian cysts are benign tumours made up of a collection of cells that are used to create eggs. As eggs have the ability to create any type of cells, dermoid cysts can consist of a wide range of different types of human tissue, including blood, fat, bone, hair and teeth all in one beautiful lump, and effect on average 1 in 5 women, with cysts that cause symptoms affecting 1 in 25. They can vary in size and symptoms, with some women never even knowing they have one if it remains small. They can range from being 1cm up to 75cms. My first cyst was 15cm, my new one is currently sitting pretty at 4cm.

Dermoid cysts are a recurring problem and must be surgically removed when they begin to cause problems, yet there is surprisingly little information available on them. A quick google search led me to a forum of women asking for information from each other on the issue. These were women who had had multiple cysts removed, who’d had ovaries removed and yet still had very little information on the condition. I myself had never been told that they reoccurred until another one decided to pay me a visit, but I was quickly informed when I questioned the doctors that this is incredibly common and should have been unsurprising to me.

So why am I so keen to tell you all this? Well for one, I think it’s important for all of us to know a bit more about what can go on down there, but also, I want to spread awareness of how much this can affect people’s lives when they do show symptoms.

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My first cyst was diagnosed after over a year of constant pain and tests. I had to take a year off school, and during that time I frequently cried and vomited from pain, and on multiple occasions, I was unable to move from my bed for several days at a time because of it; it really was a literal pain in the backside. I had scans of my brain and my spine – at one point they thought I had MS because the cyst was pressing on my spinal nerves and causing neurological symptoms such as my hands being unable to hold pens and cutlery. Eventually, after eighteen months (and a very perceptive trainee nurse) they found it, and I had emergency surgery. I was lucky. My surgeon was amazing and saved my ovary, but this is not the case for so many women. Many women who have dermoid cysts have had to have their ovaries removed for the sake of their health, but in turn, give up their fertility. I myself now have a life plan in place to manage the condition.

I can only speak from personal experience, but being told that I had another one devastated me. I remember practically skipping to the hospital to rid myself of this thing back in 2013 and three years later I was being told that I had to go through all that again.

I’m nowhere near where I was last time with the pain and discomfort, in fact, I can forget about it a lot of the time but then it comes back to remind me that it’s still there. I have missed meeting up with friends and going to their parties because “I have a really bad headache”, or “I just have too much work to do” whilst in reality I’ve typed that whilst curled up in a ball crying in pain desperately waiting for the paracetamol to kick in so that I can have the smallest slice of relief.

I have come to terms now with what lies ahead, I have a life plan organised with my doctors and I’m working on techniques to manage the pain (FYI – if you’re ever really frustrated it helps to watch YouTube clips of Malcolm Tucker and just let him channel your anger). Some women, as I have mentioned before, aren’t as lucky as I have been; they’ve had hysterectomies and cysts which have been much larger and more aggressive than mine. This is why I want to raise more awareness of dermoid ovarian cysts. I described my experience of my first cyst – a year and a half of pain and frustration whilst being poked and prodded – but my second one has so far been much better because this time I knew what to look out for. I went to the doctor, I got a scan and it was diagnosed early and now they are able to monitor it and largely keep it in check. I cannot express enough how much better it is to go to your doctor if you suspect anything than sit around hoping it will go away – it could be nothing, but it could be something and that’s worth finding out.

 

If you want more information about the signs and symptoms of dermoid ovarian cysts along with general gynaecological information visit the ‘Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ website.

 

Words by Eleanor Manley
Artwork by Celia Mohedano

Why It’s Never Too Late To Open Another Door

As of this summer, I am officially a university graduate, ready to go out into the wild world of work…or really not so much. Three years have flown by, and although uni has had it’s ups and downs, I would probably still rate it a solid 8/10; a sentiment you may or may not agree with, but either way, congratulations on graduating! 

Now that education is out of the way for at least a while, it’s time for us to focus on what we plan on doing for the rest of our lives. More specifically, that it might not necessarily be what you initially thought it would be, and why that is most definitely a valid decision. 

Pre-uni, I dedicated a hell of a lot of time to wanting to study architecture. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to Bath University to study architecture, followed by a Masters, PhD and any other relevant qualification I would need before swanning off to be architect extraordinaire. 

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It was my ambition, my life plan, and no-one could tell me otherwise. Two years later, I did start studying architecture, but at Cardiff instead (one of the best things to ever happen), but now having finished my undergrad, this is actually the end of the education journey for me so far. Thinking about it, my 16-year-old self would probably laugh at me saying this – I’m definitely not one to bail on commitments – but in hindsight, I just don’t see it as that at all.

At 18, we sit in front of those UCAS forms and it feels like we’re choosing our destiny, often with little to no experience of the subject we’re going to spend at least 3 years studying. I’d like to note that I’m writing this from the experience of choosing a very specific course with a direct relationship to a very specific job. I can imagine that perhaps with other course choices, such as Geography or English, there is far more variety in the doors that open post-graduation and thus less expectation to take a very particular path. 

In my case, 99% of people I meet assume I’m en-route to becoming a fully qualified architect, completing the full seven years because isn’t that what I’ve signed up to do? I must really want to be an architect, and yet for many people on my course, they do. They’ve found something they truly enjoy and feel rewarded doing, it makes them happy and it’s an incredibly direct path to them achieving their dreams and goals. Knowing the intense nature of the course, I have nothing but respect and admiration for all of them, and I wish them all so much luck, but quite simply, it’s just not my path. 

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Looking back, as determined as I was, maybe it was never meant to be. I just don’t think I was really ready to decide at such a young age what course would suit me best. You grow up so much during uni that your interests and passions are bound to change. I found that although I loved the course, I had chosen it for the wrong reasons. As cheesy as it sounds, I had looked to the destination rather than the journey. I didn’t even consider the experiences I’d gather, how they’d shape who I am and challenge my perception of my surroundings. Quite honestly, irrespective of how you feel about your area of study this is advice I’d now always give – maximise what you get out of your university education by appreciating what you learn and how you grow as a person, alongside the degree you’ll leave with.

Still, I can’t imagine having studied anything else, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Studying architecture has by far been my biggest challenge but I have pushed myself, developed new skills, and become a version of myself that I’m becoming prouder and prouder of. I’ve found friends for life, got involved with the local community and learned so much about both myself and architecture. By being confronted with challenges and opportunities every day, I learned my strengths and weaknesses. 

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I found that the competitiveness amongst architects did not suit me at all but also that community engagement was a natural interest of mine. I found that there were people around me who truly had a passion for what they were doing, and that inspired me to find mine – something I enjoyed so much that played to all the skills I had gained.

I already know that the skills I’ve taken away from doing the course will remain invaluable, I might just end up applying them differently to how I once thought, and that’s perfectly fine. Just because you’ve chosen a specific degree, doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to do anything else. No matter how close to your subject or how far from it your next stage in life leads, transferable skills will be your friend. You’ve not wasted your time or let anyone down. Changing your mind does not mean you’ve lost ambition or perseverance, it just means you might need a little more time to find what you really want to do or discover how to get there. I can assure you, not all dentistry students become dentists, not all journalism students become journalists and certainly not all architecture students become architects, and that is just a reflection of your individual journey. 

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Now I’m in a job which truly speaks to what I’m passionate about, and I am beyond excited. It’s still architecture-related because that genuinely interests me, and I’m able to make constant use of the skills I learned, despite this being a completely new angle to the subject for me. 

So no matter how related or unrelated your path might be to what you studied, I can guarantee there’s something you’ll take forward, be it within you or your skill set to help you find what you want to do. Maybe you’ll find it next week, next month, or next year, there is no rush. Maybe it’ll be the next thing you end up doing or it could be ten jobs down the line, that doesn’t matter either. Maybe you just need some time to consider your options from afar first. 

Whatever it may be, your choice is perfectly acceptable. No one’s path is set in stone and life is too short to stick with something you don’t actively enjoy. It’s also too short to worry about qualifications you don’t have. Believe in yourself and what you want to do, value yourself and what you have and will learn, and you’ll be able to open any door you want. 

 

Words by Maxene Sommer
Images from Maxene Sommer, Giphy/Shia LaBoeuf, Daily Letterings

Shame, Catholicism, and Sex Education

If I am being honest, my sex education never came from school but from books, film and television – like most teenagers. When the time came for me and my year nine form to have our allotted hour of PHSE sex ed, it felt a bit pointless; this was sex education from a Catholic perspective. This, of course, meant no talk of contraception or the range of contraceptives available, no talk of the lgbtq+ community, and ultimately being taught that sex was purely for procreation. The only privilege of my non-Catholic school friends was being able to put a condom on a banana, but as I look back I realise that in the confines of a Catholic school when discussing sex, it’s what isn’t talked about that creates the most damage.

When writing on Catholicism and its teachings on sex, a quote from the actor Rupert Everett – of all people – comes to mind. Upon being asked about his Catholic upbringing and how it affected his life as a gay man, he didn’t speak of the Catholic belief around homosexuality, but rather the damaging effect Catholic teachings can have on women. I sadly can’t find the exact quote so forgive me for paraphrasing: “When it comes to the Catholic church, women can’t win. The only two female roles models are Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the Virgin Mary, who conceived through immaculate conception. Women are being compared to the one woman in history who could give birth without committing a sexual act, no wonder the church attach sin and shame to sex.” On reading this, all my questions on why and how the church view sex, in particular female sexuality, were answered.

After reading Everett’s thoughts on Catholicism, it shocked me that this one way of looking at the world can be perpetuated through schools to teach such an important part of life. It rang true with my own problems surrounding sex and religion, for example, I have never understood why the strict teachings on sex are taught solely by men who have chosen to take a vow of celibacy. In life, the general rule of thumb is that when looking for advice you go to an expert, or a least a person with some knowledge and experience of your problem. However, when I look back on my sex education taught through this narrow prism, the residue that is left is shame.

For most of my teenage years, actually until I discovered feminism and feminist literature, I always felt a degree of shame about sex. As a young girl, the lack of information, and the age-old story of sex for reproduction left me with so many unanswered questions. I felt ashamed of having sexual feelings, of wanting to find out more through books and films. I was scared of the internet for the same reason I was scared of talking to adults; the embarrassment of googling, of asking, being expected to know more. It’s the catch twenty-two of being too naive in front of school friends and growing up too fast for your parent’s liking.

The mix of teenagers, sex and rumours cause misery and years of problems. Teenagers battle enough questions about their future without having to fight off the invasive questions: have you done it yet? Who with? Why are you waiting? Then again the shame that comes with both a yes and no answer. Slut shaming can come in all shapes and forms, from people you would least expect. Teaching sex using Catholicism seems to give people permission to judge a woman’s sexual behaviour, because as Rupert Everett pointed out, the church has the perfect spectrum on which to judge.  

The age-old tale of secrecy being more exciting is never truer than when sex comes into the equation. The Catholic veil of guilt and mystery does nothing to educate teenagers or even take away the fear and shame from the shy and anxious like myself. Most importantly, by not teaching teenagers about contraception, STDs, and how to practice safe sex, you are doing them a disservice. The more people know, the more power they have over their own lives and their choices. If a school must bring in the Catholic church’s teachings, then perhaps it should be one part of a much broader education. Sex education can’t be a cross between a biology lesson and a confessional. It must be taught with the same importance as the three core subjects and with the same enthusiasm and improvisational skills as a drama class.

Teachers, I implore to use every teaching tool in the box. Be brave, be honest, talk about the gory details, the joyous details. Point kids in the right direction and talk about sex’s place in culture. Even take inspiration from Channel 4’s recent documentary on sex education, and give teenagers a sex quiz. Make it competitive, make girls want to know what contraception is right for them, the importance of knowing their rights to their own body. Make boys want to know about a woman’s pleasure as well as their own, talk about the clitoris and masturbation as an important and healthy part of men and women’s lives. Hell, give UCAS points to everyone who acknowledges that NO means NO!

Give them an education void of other people’s shame and uncertainty. Take away the fear and replace it with the knowledge they will need to go out into the world. Give them knowledge they can use.

 

Words by Lara Scott
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

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