Menstrual Health Management matters. Period.

By: Nadia El Hannari

349 events from Kenya to Togo, 18,000 tweets, and more than 280 news articles – the 4th annual Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) on May 28th brought wide attention to the global issue of women facing challenges in managing their menstruation. By bringing together non-profits, the private sector, government agencies and the media, awareness about menstrual hygiene challenges around the world and education on menstrual hygiene management, the day spurred much needed discussion and action.

Challenges women and girls face managing their menstruation vary: from social norms and lack of education about menstrual health management, to socio-economic factors making managing periods with dignity a challenge. In India, 72 % of women do not maintain menstrual hygiene, leading to many health issues. This is caused largely by poor knowledge of menstrual hygiene management. In Nepal, the tradition of chhaupadi still exists in rural areas, even though deemed illegal by the local government. Women are considered impure during menstruation, and therefore have to stay isolated away from their home: in cattle sheds or huts, and banned from consuming nutritious foods in fear of them contaminating the foods.

Menstrual health is not only an issue in developing countries where the underlying problem is usually in social and cultural beliefs and lack of education. In developed nations, economic hardship cause women to not be able to take care of their health as needed. In England, school girls having to use socks as pads made national headlines and shined light on the issue on the struggle low-income girls and women face every month trying to take care of their menstrual health.

In the United States, the struggles are similar. Recently, especially the case of homeless and incarcerated women has been discussed. Women in jail have been reported not being able to afford expensive sanitary products from commissary, or being denied access to them altogether. In February, a bill called Menstrual Equity For All Act of 2017 was introduced – a great bill emphasizing the importance of menstrual health management, and the issue of inequality women face due to their economic standing.

 
 

It is clear that menstrual health needs to be discussed, and MH Day has created a platform that reaches individuals, community leaders and national decision-makers worldwide.

Working Towards Common Goals: Our New Affiliate Organization, WomenStrong International

By: Nadia El Hannari

We are excited to announce our new affiliate organization: WomenStrong International, with whom The Kota Alliance shares similar goals and values. WomenStrong International is a consortium of non-profit organizations that have the goal of empowering women and girls to change their lives, families and communities, with the aim to eradicate extreme urban poverty.

WomenStrong International operates in 5 countries: Ghana, Haiti, India, Kenya and the United States. The Consortium members are focused on meeting the 6 essential needs of women and girls – health, safety, shelter, education, economic empowerment, and a functioning urban environment – in their locations of operation. WomenStrong International works to provide resources for their members to help the women and girls with whom they work meet these needs.

The 6 essential needs of girls and women

The 6 essential needs of girls and women

During their Annual Retreat earlier this month, WomenStrong International invited members of The Kota Alliance for a training session, where we met with WomenStrong staff and Project Directors from all five Consortium member sites. The training session, led by Karen Robinson of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, focused on essential tools for human rights educators.

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Attendees were divided into groups to list the essential needs their programs would ideally address in their work. Despite each Consortium member’s different region, culture and economic and political situation, there were many similarities in the specific areas that each site wanted to tackle, including reproductive health education, nutrition, accessibility of education to all children, and improving financial literacy and the capacity to earn and save.

The teams matched their areas of work to Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Articles that seemed most often aligned with WomenStrong’s Consortium members’ programs were Articles 3, 21, 23, 25, and 26, including the rights to life and liberty, civic participation, an education and an adequate standard of living. Reading through the Universal Declaration prompted the teams to think about their programs in a new light and to recognize the work they do as fundamental human rights work.

We would like to warmly welcome WomenStrong International to our expanding network of like-minded organizations, and we are excited to see what the future brings – hopefully, more fruitful discussions and great collaboration to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality both locally and globally.

Addressing FGM with Cultural Sensitivity and Community Involvement

By: Jacinta David Miller

It is important that we move to end the act of Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting within the United States, as well as "vacation cutting" (the practice of sending young girls overseas to undergo FGM). However there is a prominent need to ensure that the approach taken in addressing FGM/C should be handled with great cultural sensitivity and in partnership with communities. 

A recent article published in the Sahiyo Newsletter articulates the need for approaching FGM/C with cultural sensitivity. Citing the example of a recent federal intervention in Michigan’s Dawoodi Bohra community after an investigation into a Detroit Doctor’s practice of FGM lead to several arrests and the involvement of local Child Services. The author emphasises the need to engage and educate communities rather than put in place divisive punitive measures that merely act to isolate the community. This approach focuses on changing the normative perceptions of communities that practice FGM whilst still respecting inherent cultural sensitivities. This approach ensures the ability to prioritise the well being of young women and girls in a way that refrains from demonizing an entire community. 

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Ignorance to the reason and intentions that families hold for practicing FGM/C or reducing the act to an archaic and outdated cultural practice has the potential to exclude the very communities from conversation and involvement. Without engaging and creating an open dialogue to educate and inform there is a risk of persecuting and tearing apart the families of the very people that need help. Indeed there is an emphasised importance on the need to work with rather than against communities.

For further information on FGM/C and to discover ways as to how you can get involved: Join us on Friday May 26th at Garibaldi Plaza in Washington Square Park. This will be a special cultural event hosted by the USA/ Mali Charitable Association of New York focused on the community coming together to end FGM/C. Our President, Jaana Rhenstrom, will be speaking at the event on the medical implications of FGM/C. There will also be an additional host of Malian and other cultural activities. 

Texas Women Strike Back with Kota on Postpartum Depression Screening Coverage

By: Gwendolyn Quintana & Jacinta David Miller

The healthcare legislature movement is in full swing all across the country as state and local representatives, senators, and the American people flock to support bills that improve the healthcare system and oppose bills that deter Americans from receiving quality care. Indeed the platform of discussion on healthcare is amplified with the introduction of the proposed American Health Care Act. A bill that if passed would be a massacre in terms of the removal of coverage for many - if not all - women. It is in this climate of uncertainty that we must ensure that there are  presence of a protective framework in adjacent State legislation. 

On May 5 The Kota Alliance supported Texas Representative Coleman’s House Bill 2135, relating to postpartum depression screening and coverage under the medical assistance and CHIP perinatal programs in Texas. As of today, mental health services for postpartum women are many times caught in what is termed a coverage gap

Up to 1 out of every 5 women who give birth go on to encounter postpartum depression symptoms; yet, several women forego treatment because of a lack of screening coverage, particularly Medicaid/CHIP women. Postpartum depression can have long-term ramifications if not treated promptly and properly. Take this opportunity for activism in your community today to support bills that strengthen healthcare for women and babies in your community.