When it comes to fighting for Period Equity, these women know a thing or two. This month, we took a deep dive into the work of five different women, on making the world a better place for people who bleed.
Stephanie founded the Masai Water Project to better serve menstruating individuals in the community of Masai.
- Where did your story begin? How did you start working in the menstrual equity space?
For a lot of us, menstrual equity isn't something you think about. Like food insecurity, if you have been fortunate enough to never face those challenges in your own life, it may not even occur to you how acute and widespread an issue it really is. While working with the community to solve water scarcity issues, I noticed that school enrollment was split about 50/50 between girls and boys. However, above a certain grade level, girls' attendance was almost non-existent. I learned that most Maasai girls in our community completely stop going to school once they start menstruating.
Without access to any menstrual management products, attending school is nearly impossible. I immediately thought about Modibodi. I knew that would be the perfect solution for them, and it already existed. All I had to do was send an email and hope for a response. And we know how that turned out lol.
- Why do you do what you do?
People often ask me, why did you choose this? My answer is, “I didn't have a choice.” Once I came to know and love the people in our Maasai community and understood the challenges they endure, I couldn't go on with my life without doing something to help. I knew I could do something, even if it was small, I just had to. I love them.
- What are you most proud of in the work you do?
We are very proud that the menstrual solutions we bring to our Maasai community are the same quality products that we in the western world deem acceptable. Too often, Indigenous and remote rural communities can only access resources that we would never use ourselves. For example, period pads fashioned from old clothes or bulky disposable products provided to areas with no waste collection services are sometimes the only solutions available for these communities. I am very grateful that our partnership with Modibodi allows us to truly strive for menstrual equity by providing Indigenous communities with top-of-the-line products, the same products used in privileged communities like ours. A person’s economic status or geographic location has no effect on their need for menstrual management resources. We all need the same quality solutions and we all should have access to them.
- Where have you seen positive change during the time you have been working in the menstrual equity space and where do you still see room for improvement and growth?
I learned so much my first time distributing Modibodi underwear in our community in Tanzania. I always do these kinds of things myself so that I can gain a better understanding of the wants and needs of our community through observing people’s behavior. We saw an immediate positive change even before we distributed any soap or underwear. Many women were overcome with gratitude just at the simple fact that we gathered them together to acknowledge that a total lack of period management products is difficult and unacceptable. The acknowledgment, which may seem obvious to some, was extremely validating for them.
Also, I was really surprised by the excitement displayed by the more senior women. Maasai men live well beyond 100 years old and continue to have babies into their old age. So that fact, coupled with the sheer enthusiasm from the older women, made me wonder … wow do Maasai women stay fertile longer? I asked them, “At what age do Maasai women stop getting their periods?” They all laughed at me. The older women, most of which have had between 5 and 8 natural home births in their lifetime, were simply excited to finally have something to keep them clean and dry. Issues like incontinence and general hygiene were daily struggles for them before they had access to this underwear.
Where I see room for improvement and growth in the period equity space is increasing access. Access is the main issue for Indigenous and remote communities. So often the solutions to solving these problems already exist. The main challenge is continuing to increase access for Indigenous peoples while maintaining and protecting their culture and way of life.
- What is the biggest challenge you face in the work you do?
Our biggest challenge is growing our ongoing financial support. We work in our communities every day. Whether teaching in remote schools, providing food and safe water for the most vulnerable, growing our widows’ herd of goats, or increasing access to women's health resources in remote villages. Our projects are active every day, and glowing. It's one thing to do a big fundraising push to build a school or a well. People get excited and pitch in to meet a goal – but the real work is in the everyday investments in the community. Those activities are going on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is a challenge to keep people excited about and contributing to ongoing operational community investments.
- Why is menstrual equity so important?
Menstrual equity is important because … it’s a basic human right. Simply having the ability to be a fully functioning human with autonomy over your own body and movements is not a luxury, it is a right. Everyone deserves that.