wellbeing

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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Sex Drive and Sadness

The side effects and symptoms of depression and anxiety can seep into every nook of your life. They can destroy your confidence, your energy levels, you can lose your social life, and your sex life can disappear. Those who suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can watch their sex life suffer and not understand why. You can sit by as you watch your relationship fall apart, or you can’t quite find your confidence to keep the lights on and remove your clothes in front of someone else. You can think that you don’t feel the same wants and needs that everyone else around you apparently feels, or not be able to pinpoint what exactly in you has changed yet nothing feels the same.

One of the less discussed yet still debilitating side effects of depression is a loss of libido. This can destroy relationships, the sufferer may not feel that they are providing their partner with everything that they want and need and therefore can acquire a sense of guilt and not feel like an adequate partner. This does not come from a lack of love for the partner, but relates to the struggle to enjoy life in the same ways that they used to. This is normal. At a time when they may feel that everything tastes of nothing and there isn’t quite anything that makes them feel strongly about something anymore, a lack of sex drive is perfectly understandable. They can still be head over heels for someone but not feel any urge to have sex anymore, they are intrinsically different things. Discussing this with the partner may make things a little easier for them to understand; communication is important in order for someone to understand what you are truly thinking. 

Another consequence of depression and anxiety can be a feeling of low self-confidence and low self-esteem. The thought of letting someone else see your body can be stomach churning, and the idea that they may find you attractive is baffling, but part of the self-care, if you have a mental illness, is to learn to fall in love with your body and to learn to find peace with yourself. If you aren’t currently okay with letting someone else see you fully naked, then build on it over time and learn where to draw the line of how comfortable you are. Never force yourself to do something because you feel like you should be doing it. If you are uncomfortable with something, work out why you feel that way and try to solve it or work around it.

Give yourself time, don’t force yourself into something that you are not comfortable with. You’re not alone in these feelings and looking after your mental health will help ensure that you have a healthy sex life. Don’t forget that every person has a different sex drive; what is normal for one person may be much higher or much lower than yours, having a dip is therefore normal for you. As with any issue discussed this week, if something is particularly worrying you, take time to go to the doctors so that you can talk about it.

 

Words by Beth Farrell
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

Let’s talk about sex.

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If I remember correctly, sex education at my primary and secondary school was brief and severely lacking. I have googled so much. I am 21. I shouldn’t have to be asking the internet questions about sexual health or calling the doctor because I started a new pill and now one boob is bigger than the other (true story). It’s not safe. A lot of research done into the effectiveness of sex education as it stands has focused on unwanted pregnancy and STIs, but it’s not just that people get infections; shouldn’t young people be enjoying sex?

Sex education, or rather proper sex education, has become something of a passion of mine in the last year. I decided Anthem ought to take part in promoting good sex ed to the masses, and since then I’ve been reading, writing, and talking about it non-stop. I’ve learned so much – far more than I ever learned in school, and I’m very excited to be able to bring sex education week to you all, via Anthem. Ultimately, there is no limit on who should receive education, particularly education on life matters such as politics, finance or sexual health and wellbeing. As our goal is to present accessible feminism, we invite you all to learn a little this week, and to discuss so that we might help each other.

Sex education is imperative to all people, worldwide. As already mentioned, I’m not saying this because too many people are getting pregnant or something, I’m saying all this because there is a lot about our own health that can benefit us mentally, that we don’t know. This project aims to encompass as much as possible, so expect posts on periods, body image, healthy relationships and boobs (and so on).

There’s so much to learn, and so with the hope of doing this project annually, please interact with us, and tell us what you love, or what you want to know about next time. Our lovely Anthem writers have done some serious research, and have delved into their own experiences to bring you their pieces this week. These are not easy things to talk about, and we are not experts, but we have been through a lot collectively, and we want to share our knowledge with you.

Personally, I’m passionate about this project because I believe it is worthwhile; I think it can benefit everyone. This is not a project to be associated with embarrassment or stigma, but openness and truths. We want to talk about these things because people don’t, and none of us here think that’s quite right! Let’s talk about things, let’s not be afraid! Lend us your eyes and ears this week, and we’ll try our best to inform you of what we’ve learned, and maybe get you thinking.

We could be very dark and serious and hit you with all the statistics about the consequences of poor sex education (I may still do this later on, it really depends on how I feel), but instead, we want to make this project as positive and inspiring as we can. Take part as you wish: read, comment or even share with your friends. Who knows who we can help, together.

The project officially begins today, but we will be posting at least once a day for the next 6 days, and we implore you to embrace the topics wholly (even if you’re not a fan of blood). Please enjoy, share, and most importantly, learn! We can’t wait to share our work with you, and hope you enjoy the week ahead.

Love Anthem xo

 

Words by Briony Brake
Part of the September Sex Education Week 2017.

Blue Monday, Blue Winter, Blue Year.

Blue Monday is not the most depressing day of the year, nor is it any more or less depressing than any other day of the year.

January can be a difficult month as we tend to pile even more pressure onto ourselves with sweeping New Year’s resolutions that often force us to think we should be fitter, stronger, or better than we already are. My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to watch more films because I keep watching the same ones over and over .

I do not plan to get smarter, thinner, or better at riding my bike because I have as much control over the year as I do the weather. This year I’m going to try my best to look after myself while I attempt to embrace the mess that is life after uni.

I don’t believe I will be happy all year. I don’t believe I will be healthy and happy for the next New Year because I don’t know what life will bring. My attitude differs to the popular resolve I’m sure, but it seems fair to me.

As such, I know people will think I’m being negative by saying that Blue Monday is as depressing as any other day. I feel I should however remind you that Blue Monday is false, has no scientific backing, and was made up by holiday company Sky Travel in their 2005 press release. Blue Monday is pseudoscience, and an angle for marketers. So all of this (see below) is bullshit.

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My point with this piece isn’t to mock you, or to tell you how foolish you are to buy into all the companies and newspapers telling you to be depressed every January 16th. My point is to tell you that for many people, the entire month, season or year can be so awfully blue, that one day won’t make a difference.

We should not see Blue Monday as a day to feel bad about ourselves unnecessarily, but as a reminder of how much work we need to put into looking after ourselves, as often as we can. Whether it’s a seasonal affective, or year-round depression, it’s important to focus on the good.

Articles from the Daily Mail (*cough* trash) telling us why things are terrible and ‘more depressing than usual’, should be replaced with good news, and things to be happy about. We should not feel bad for being upset, and we should definitely not feel bad on behalf of others when we are sad. It is a human right to feel. It is a part of living to cry and feel down, as much as it is to laugh and feel joy.

This Blue Monday, I ask that you stop reading articles about the bad in the world and to instead watch a film, or have dessert or a hot chocolate. I don’t want you to feel bad because you’ve been told to. I ask that you look after yourself as well as you should every other day of the year, and to do your best to keep it up from now on.

Blue Monday isn’t real, but your health and feelings are. Look after what counts, and be kind to yourself.

 

Words by Briony Brake

Caring About Self-Care

I’ve been learning a lot recently. I’ve been at a school, for the mind.

I’ve had a bit of a revelation about life, the universe, and everything.

Ok, are you ready? Listening? Ears tuned to Sian frequency? Eyes ready to be widened in shock?

Here we go:

It’s important to look after yourself.

I KNOW. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure.

It turns out, that it’s quite important for your mental and physical wellbeing to care about yourself, and your body and your mind. It’s makes a difference if you shower, and change your bed sheets, and give yourself evenings in to watch Netflix. Eating proper meals makes you feel better!

And not just in the obvious ways. It turns out that doing nice things for yourself means that you start to believe that you’re worth those nice things (or not even nice things just normal looking after yourself things) and then you feel better and give yourself more of those nice things and then you feel better and then-

Wait… you guys don’t look as surprised as I was hoping. Oh you… you already knew? Who told you? You just knew? How did you just know? Oh. Okay yeah, fair enough. Common sense. Yeah.

For me, this is pretty big news.

Here are some things I have done since I learnt about self care:

  • Got a job
  • Bought myself fresh flowers
  • Did my washing more regularly
  • Bought nice shampoo
  • Wore clothes that made me happy

I thought that self-care was just showering and sleeping. But, it turns out, it’s so much more than that. It turns out that if you make yourself feel nice, then you’ll feel nice. And that if you look after yourself properly and dedicate time to thinking about the way you feel, you’ll actually feel better.

I’m in about week 6 of therapy. I’m trying so fucking hard to undo negative thoughts, and feelings, and relearn what happy is. No, not even what happy is, just what okay is. And that alone, that act of making myself go and talk to a lovely doctor every week about why I feel the way I do, is a kind of self-care. Because I’m learning to value myself, and what I need. And that’s so important

I can’t believe I didn’t know it was important! Why did no one tell me it was so important! Why aren’t we taught it in schools – why don’t we have sex education, and drug education, and then mental health education about how the world is big and scary but you are valid, and real, and how we are all just blobs of being and we are what we make ourselves and we should look after ourselves because it’s so self-validating?

I wish I had been taught that I am worth looking after. I wish everyone got taught that, because you are, you so so are.

 

Words by Sian Brett.