Malawi: Trinitas Mhango-Kunashe changes women’s lives

Equality matters. Unwritten sanctions against people who speak openly about bodily functions, especially female body functions, seem to exist everywhere. Menstruation is one of these topics. Sanctions against menstruating women are many. Young girls still get their first monthly bleeding without knowing what is happening. We are expected to hide the fact that we menstruate and must make as little fuss as possible. Menstrual products (reuseable pads, disposable pad, cups, tampons, ets.) are expensive. In many countries there is no access to menstrual products. Women must use rags that leak and are forbidden, by unwritten rules, to wash and hang their rags where they can be seen. Girls stay home from school because they bleed through their rags or there is no access to a toilet. Both genders enforce this form of discrimination and body-shaming. However, some women (and men) take steps to make life better for menstruating women. Especially poor countries struggle with access to menstrual products. Malawi is a place where a month’s supply of disposable pads may cost up to two days salary.  Trinitas Mhango-Kunashe’s reuseable pads can make a huge difference in the lives of women.

Easing the menstrual woes

Brenda Twea | May 22, 2016

Menstruation is a normal biological process and a key sign of reproductive health. It is the natural monthly occurrence in healthy adolescent girls and pre-menopausal adult women. The onset can occur anytime between the ages of eight and 16, resulting in about 3 000 days of menstruation in an average woman’s lifetime.

In addition to persisting taboos, women and girls’ capacity to manage their periods is affected by a number of other factors, including limited access to affordable and hygienic sanitary materials and disposal options leaving many to manage their periods in ineffective, uncomfortable and unhygienic ways.

Very often, women and girls miss school and productive work days and fall behind their male counterparts, because of practical needs such as water and space for washing and cleaning the body, material for absorbing menstrual blood and facilities for proper disposal of used materials.

Example of Ms. Mhango-Kunashe’s reuseable menstrual pads. Credit MW Nation€€

Menstrual hygiene and management can be essential in ensuring that one’s everyday life is not interrupted by menstruation. A College of Medicine research scientist and project coordinator for Global Early Adolescent Study, Trinitas Mhango-Kunashe is producing reusable sanitary pads.

“I sew reusable, washable sanitary pads made out of cloth. They can last for two years. This is a low cost alternative, a once off purchase which a girl could use for 24 times or more,” says Kunashe.

Tinapads, as they are called, are made of three types of fabric; flannel, toweling and water proof material. The pattern has wings which are snapped with press buttons to wrap it properly and comfortably on the underwear. “This will ensure that a girl stays in school all year round. If she is absent then menstruation management problem will not be the reason for her absenteeism,” she says.

Kunashe adds that she came up with this innovation after noting that girls usually stay home from school for days due to lack of proper and dignified sanitary materials. She notes that this affects their class work, and translates into poor performances and rises in school dropout rates.

“Our objectives are to reduce absenteeism rates caused by lack of sanitary products, keep girls in school, motivate them to stay in school, break the silence around menstruation and expose girls to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) because our distribution will go along with three sessions on body development, body feelings and changes and how to cope with that,” she says.

Kunashe says it will be a pack of nine sanitary pads, down from the initial 10. The number was reduced in order to bring down the cost.

“In the pack of nine, three will be used on day one, three on day two; and two on day three and the remaining one on day four. The target is for the pads to be used once a month so that when they are washed, they should not be used again until the following month. As such, they will last longer. …”

The rest of the article may be read at The Nation

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Linford, Shannon; It gets better with time

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Seven years ago today, at the age of 16, I had a major POTS episode. But at the time, I didn’t know it was a POTS episode. I was undiagnosed and blamed the whole event on myself, my interpretation of my own laziness, my inability to take care of my body.

My heart rate was sustained at 180+ BPM for close to two hours with a mess of other symptoms (nausea, blurred vision, I was white as a ghost, pain in all of my joints, etc.) and I ended up sleeping on the floor of the bathroom with gastrointestinal problems. My mom tried to take me to the emergency room but I was a headstrong teenager and refused. I reasoned that I was just having a stomach flareup and the tachycardia was a response to me being very out of shape after doing a bit of running around in the heat of summer.

Because for years, those were the things my cardiologists had told me when we asked about my tachycardia.

“You’re fine, you’re just out of shape.”

That night, my mom texted my psychiatrist, the only doctor along with my therapist who believed there might be something else at play besides “harmless” tachycardia. He told my mom to take me to urgent care as soon as possible.

They performed an EKG and they said there appeared to be nothing wrong, but sent me to the hospital where they performed an echocardiogram. Everything was structurally sound. We made appointments with my cardiologist. I didn’t get much help there.

You’re fine, Shannon. Drink more water. Add more salt to your diet. But you’re fine. Nothing’s wrong.

They did a holter monitor a few months later. They never really addressed the tachycardia, the fatigue, the chronic pain, any other symptom. They just referred back to the EKGs and echos. You’re fine, Shannon. You’re fine, you’re fine, you’re fine.

*

Seven years later, to the day, I just finished up my fourth conference with Dysautonomia International. …

The rest of the article may be read on dysautonothankyou

Menstruation/periods can be extra difficult with a disability

Finally, a frank conversation about disability and periods. My period arrived when I was about 12.5. It was an embarrassing day. Since then, I have wished it away. Slowly, that wish is coming true. During these 40 years of monthly bleeding, I have tried the traditional products (pads and tampons) but never alternative menstrual products (like menstrual cups/menskopp). I cannot use tampons and I would guess that I am not alone in that. Nor can I use silicone products and had no clue there were alternatives. Thankfully, crippledscholar has had experience with various menstrual products and brought the topic into the open. Like she says, there are considerations that people with disabilities have to think about that are irrelevant without disabilities. Maybe my last periods will be more comfortable than the previous ones have been.

Let’s Talk About Disability, Periods, and Alternative Menstrual Products
Posted by crippledscholar on July 8, 2016

There is so much I want to say about disability and menstruation. So much that I could never fit it into a single post. I have noticed that there is very little written about disability and menstruation generally and what little there is is most often not written by disabled people. As a result a lot of it is about control and often menstrual cessation in order to make the menstruating person more convenient for a care giver. This sometimes goes so far as sterilization of the disabled person.

The dearth of material on disability and menstruation from the disabled perspective likely has a number of influences that include the fact that menstruation is still unfortunately a taboo subject generally that people are embarrassed to talk about. Add to that the very idea of disability and sexuality is also still (somehow) widely denied. Which is, I suspect why so many nondisabled people feel so comfortable talking about period cessation as a reasonable solution to disabled people who have periods.

This focus on just stopping the whole business of menstruation is frustrating because it primarily marks the disabled body and its natural functions as too inconvenient. It also means that for those of us who do menstruate that we are left with disability specific information on how to deal with our periods.

It is the latter issue that I’m going to deal with now because the first issue while so important is just to big for me to handle right now.

I am going to talk about disability and the accessibility of alternative menstrual products.

Unfortunately, I am just one person with just one kind of disabled body and so nothing I say will have universal application. This is one of the reasons why we really need more disabled people to share their stories and experiences. If you have a different experience please share it in the comments or write your own blog post about it and share that in the comments.

Hopefully in spite of this I will have something useful to say or spark a conversation to get more voices heard because I really feel that it is essential to demystify and destigmatize not only menstruation and particularly disabled people menstruating.

For context (to see if what I say will translate well for you) I have left side hemiplegic cerebral palsy and am autistic. So most of what I have experience with is dealing with menstruation literally single handedly and the sensory aspects it entails.

I started menstruating when I was 11 and have primarily used pads as my go to feminine hygiene product. I found tampons difficult and uncomfortable for pretty much my entire childhood and teen years. I only started using them rarely when I was well into my twenties.

I have never found pads to be particularly comfortable and couldn’t manage to deal with anything other than the thinnest option. I’m still not a fan of tampons. I find the uncomfortable but sheer pragmatism has forced me to use them occasionally. I am always hyper aware of them the entire time that I do.

In the last decade or so alternatives to the standard and and tampon methods of dealing with menstruation have become more mainstream (though they have definitely existed longer than that).

Alternative period products are generally washable and reusable and are considered to be both more environmentally friendly and more cost effective.

The oldest alternative period product is probably the menstrual cup …………..

The rest of the article may be read at crippledscholar

“Funny Numbers” with Robert Osserman, Steve Martin and Robin Williams

A goal of The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at University of California, Berkeley, is to communicate its love for mathematics and the mathematical sciences. Professor Robert Osserman (1926-2011) held a series public conversations on how cultural matters relate to mathematics. One of those conversations, entitled “Funny Numbers”, was with Steve Martin (actor, play-writer, author and musician). The San Fransisco Chronicle’s Jonathan Curiel described the December 15, 2002 event as

“Martin taking out a banjo and playing the instrument like a country music star; Osserman saying some things as wittily as his famous guest; and — halfway through — Robin Williams suddenly walking onstage, where he bantered, imitated, cajoled and gesticulated (about math, Trent Lott, French people, etc. ) as only Robin Williams can do.”

I laughed. Three incredibly intelligent people playing with conversation, Osserman helpless with laughter at times, held the public in the palms of their hands.

 

Assigning gender and “experts”

From Hverdagstoy
From Hverdagstoy

My daughter is a woman, yet was assigned male at birth. She has given permission to tell this part of her life.

Here in Norway, even now, anything that does not involve penis-hatred, makes you a person who is not a true transgender. Until the law is changed (in the works) a person cannot legally change their gender without a full surgical change of every single gender identifying body-part. That also goes for intersex people. (This law was changed July 2016 and you no longer need a physical transition for change of legal gender) In addition, hormone treatment cannot start at the onset of puberty – even to delay puberty. Unless, you get the diagnose “F.64.0 transseksualisme” at Rikshospitalet, you will be referred to psychological services instead. So people lie about how much they abhor their bodies. Without dysphoria, no treatment.

Through most of her life my daughter has presented as female. From she was about five years old she grew her hair out. It stayed long until a hair-dresser took it into her hands to cut it off. Never went back there again. When she was about ten years old, she came to me and very clearly told me she no longer wanted to be a boy. We sat down, talked about it and figured out exactly what she meant. I said I would see what information I could find and if there was a place we could turn for help.

I called around and said something like, “I have a daughter who is experiencing …… Is there any person there who can help her.” Norway is a small country (5 mill) and our access to specialists on gender in children is small. One place that is supposed to provide such expertise is Institutt for klinisk sexologi og terapi. Its founder is considered one of Norway’s foremost experts on sexuality. His name is Thore Langfeldt. This is the person we went to, and we thought we were in safe hands.

The short and simple of this acquaintance was that Sophia needed to work through her bullying and all would be well. By “well” it was understood that Sophia would be comfortable being a boy. I am Aspergers. Eleven years ago I was leaving Mormonism and had no clue about what gender really was. I’d always (and still do) presented as non-conformative as female. The idea of gender has confused me for as far back as I can remember. Some people call that gender queer. Me, I call it me. All three factors led me to accept Langfeldt’s verdict, and Sophia’s went through many years of unnecessary identity-struggles.

How life would have been for her, if Langfeldt had listened better and been a bit wiser is impossible to say. Perhaps better. Perhaps worse. Prejudice exists everywhere. What we can know is what did happen. Because Sophia was female in all but clothing (we aren’t exactly very fashion/gender-conscious) the boys would not accept her. But neither would the girls. All because of an initial. Things got dark in periods. Suicide was often thought of and planned by Sophia. During a two-year period she even tried presenting as male. All of the symptoms of depression were there.

Finally, the autumn of 2014, Norwegian TV2 showed a documentary series called “Født i feil kropp“. She once again went to Langfeldt who claimed she was “just gay” and to not tell us. Sophia knew she was very much into women. Thankfully, she found a better shrink. One who claimed that she was one of the most obvious cases of trans-woman that he had met. She told us. No problem. Here she is, one year after starting hormone treatment, and her hormone levels are well within female levels. She looks, sounds and behaves more like the world views women than I do.

Investigative journalism threatened by commercialization

I have noticed a greater tendency toward what I call copy-journalism. Facts aren’t checked, and people are taken at their word. Some time ago I wrote a post on another blog about a person whose self-presentation did not fit the facts. Yet her narrative was the one media used. Even though the case was small, it mattered a great deal to all parties involved. For the first time a post of mine was shared in large numbers.

This article is about freedom of the press and how commercialization and the powers that be are threatening it in the US. The US is not the only country where that is the case. Norwegian press is being influenced by the demands of clicks. We need a free press, a press that is willing and able to investigate and dig for information. If not, our future looks bleak.

‘If we can’t have faith in press, we’ve lost’: Snowden on failing journalism

Published time: 11 May, 2016 18:24

Former US intelligence contractor and whistle blower Edward Snowden. © Lotta Hardelin / Dagens Nyheter
Former US intelligence contractor and whistle blower Edward Snowden. © Lotta Hardelin / Dagens Nyheter / AFP

Journalism as a weapon has never been stronger, but has never been less willing to serve the public good, says whistleblower Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor has called for a reassessment of the public’s relationship to the media.

Journalism as a weapon has never been stronger, but has never been less willing to serve the public good, says whistleblower Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor has called for a reassessment of the public’s relationship to the media.

He outlines his views on the present state of journalism and the increasing role that those in power play in controlling it in an interview he gave to the Columbia Journalism Review.

One of the most challenging things about the changing nature of the public’s relationship to media and the government’s relationship to media is that media has never been stronger than it is now,” Snowden says. “At the same time, the press is less willing to use that sort of power and influence because of its increasing commercialization.

Part of the reason is capitalistic greed and the 24-hour news cycle, according to Snowden. There is a conveyor belt of information that is aimed more at competition and staying afloat than at questioning the official line or writing a story that would set a source apart from competing outlets.

One example of this is writing counter-narratives to somebody’s exclusive coverage instead of spreading a good story. When the reporting of facts takes a back seat, the media isn’t doing its only job.

Snowden specifically calls out the New York Times as an offender.The Intercept recently published The Drone Papers, which was an extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago,” Snowden remembers. But the majors – specifically The New York Times – don’t actually run the story, they ignore it completely.

The former intelligence contractor now living in exile in Russia believes that in the post-9/11 world the media has increasingly drifted away from its primary purpose as a public service to becoming an instrument for the promotion of the government line and the strengthening of its elites.

If it involved the word ‘terrorism,’ these were facts that wouldn’t be challenged. If the government said, ‘Look, this is secret for a reason, this is classified for a reason,’ journalists would leave it at that,” Snowden said, referring to major US news outlets.

However, he also believes there’s no better time to strike back at this monopoly over information, especially with all the new technological tools we have at our disposal. Revelations such as the ones relating to NSA’s blanket-spying PRISM program deal a strong blow to the establishment.

When the government is shown in a most public way, particularly for a president who campaigned on the idea of curtailing this sort of activity, to have continued those policies, in many cases expanded them in ways contrary to what the public would expect, they have to come up with some defense, Snowden says.

The exiled whistleblower talks about media as both a threat to the hegemony of the surveillance state and as its strongest weapon.

The public’s relationship to it changed in the post-9/11 world. New models of journalistic delivery emerged, including the proliferation of social media as a formidable reporting instrument.

This is actually one of the ways that you’ve seen new media actors, and actually malicious actors, exploit what are perceived as new vulnerabilities in media control of the narrative, for example Donald Trump, Snowden warns.

An added danger of social media, according to Snowden, lies in people’s inherent trust that they’re getting a better deal than with established corporate media. And a further drawback shared by both social and corporate media is that he who has the loudest voice and the biggest viewership always has a bigger chance. Even a good, honest investigation can get smothered if only one source dares to report it.

The director of the FBI can make a false statement, or some kind of misleading claim in congressional testimony. I can fact-check and I can say this is inaccurate. Unless some entity with a larger audience, for example, an established institution of journalism, sees that themselves, the value of these sorts of statements is still fairly minimal, Snowden explains.

This has a flipside in the form of a large interplay and valuable interactions that are emerging from these new media self-publication Twitter-type services and the generation of stories and the journalist user base of Twitter, Snowden believes.

So, what has changed in the information sphere since the 2013 NSA leaks and was there really a loss of innocence for the public? Why was there such surprise at the revelations that the NSA was running a blanket-spying program? Snowden remembers past revelations, but sees a key difference. If before there was reasonable anger that specific far-reaching government capabilities existed, the NSA leaks of 2013 took that to the next level by claiming that this technology was actually being used.

…What happened in 2013 is we transformed the public debate from allegation to fact. The distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world, Snowden says.

One markedly different thing now was that the US government had to start using lawfulness as a concept. If before it was protected by a veil of secrecy and could carry on with its activities unabated, [it] suddenly needed to make a case for lawfulness, and that meant the government had to disclose court orders that the journalists themselves did not have access to, that I did not have access to, that no one in the NSA at all had access to, because they were bounded in a completely different agency, in the Department of Justice, Snowden explains. …

You may read the rest of the article at RT Question More

How Autism Awareness Goes Wrong

I am not a fan of Autism Speaks and their tactics. There is not enough autism and too much speak in their club. So much of their work goes toward demonizing autism and terrifying parents into supporting them and their “cure” theories. Really. Folks. Stop patronizing us.

Remember to put the person first! It’s a “person suffering from allism” not “allistic person” no matter how many times they try and tell you otherwise. It’s disrespectful to allow them their own choice in how they’d like to be referred.” (Tone it Down Taupe)

The word NO written in capital letters from a pile of blue and orange jigsaw puzzle pieces with a gray cardboard back. Pictured separated on a white background. Can also be turned upside down to spell ON.
flickr/Horia Varlan

April 18, 2016 | by

Friends, I want to talk to you about autism awareness awareness. We are, I fear, on the verge of an autism awareness epidemic, a veritable tsunami of awareness. Once a relatively rare phenomenon, the ailment, which is most commonly characterized by non-autistic people engaging in public handwringing about autism and/or feeling inspired by those tragically touched by neurodevelopmental disorders, has become increasingly common over the past decade. Some speculate that, within the next few years, as many as 1 in 2 people could have an awareness of autism.

In theory, more people knowing more about autism spectrum disorder would be a good thing. Autistic people, like me, could certainly benefit from the general public having a greater understanding of what our lives are like, and maybe even some genuine acceptance of those lives in whatever form they take. Increased awareness would be an excellent first step toward those goals. But the kind of autism awareness that is currently celebrated in day (April 2) and month (the rest of April) form was never made for people like me. I’d argue that it was never really made with anyone on the spectrum in mind at all.

The most nefarious incarnation of autism awareness is the kind espoused by Autism Speaks, which treats autistic people as little more than props in its various campaigns. The prominent charity’s simple and dishearteningly effective message—autism is bad and it must be stopped—misrepresents a complex condition and identity as a sinister looming specter that can and should be cured. It reduces the people who have autism to damaged, voiceless zombies bringing suffering to everyone who loves them, when in fact we are disabled human beings who might require treatments and accommodations unique to our circumstances. And Autism Speaks’ ends might actually be worse than its means, given that so little of its budget goes toward helping autistic people and their families……………………

The rest of the article may be read at The Establishment

How We Talk About Women And Sex

As I said in a previous post, I have been raised Mormon. Their ideas surrounding women and sexuality are, as most conservative religions, are detrimental to sexual well-being. Sex before marriage is a no-no. If that rule is broken, and a leader finds out, a person loses privileges. It is a girl’s/woman’s responsibility that boys/men are not tempted. Language in the Mormon faith is patriarchal and male privilege laded.

Christene’s article about linguistic patterns specific to women’s roles in sex and relationships exemplifies how we, both men and women, nurture these patterns and speaks of how we might learn to listen and read more carefully. Once a person becomes aware of just how patriarchal English (and Norwegian) is, that genie is out of its bottle forever.

5151276537_7c33fd41dd_b
Lead image: Flickr.com/José Manuel Ríos Valiente

April 16, 2016 | by Christene

In February, I wrote a piece on having been raised by a sex-positive mother. It was a topic that had been stirring in the back of my mind for a while, as my mom’s parenting style largely cemented my belief that open communication about sex, relationships, and reproductive health is crucial among families and in schools.

One of the many reasons I’m glad I was brought up with a sex-positive outlook is that I developed a clear sense of sexual agency and bodily autonomy. Or, as Emily Heist Moss worded it, I grew up with the understanding that “expressing sexuality is not the same as being sexualized.” As the male gaze continues to pervade everything from music to advertising, we must reframe the choices that girls and women make as their own and not “for” their male counterparts.

Much of this, in my view, has to do with the language we use to reference women’s sexuality. Linguistic patterns hold over time with repeated and widespread use, contributing to our culture in ways that often fly under the radar. For example, our common use of the “male default” when referring to creatures of unknown gender (animals, deities) or groups of both men and women (“mankind,” “policemen,” and the insidious “you guys”) enforces a standard with myriad far-reaching effects. Women are not only categorized as “less” or “other”—they are defined relationally.

Here are a few linguistic patterns specific to women’s roles in sex and relationships that, as part of our modern vernacular, rob women of their agency. ……

The rest of the article may be read at Role Reboot

Documentary on bi-polar disorder

Some Aspergers/Autists have no co-morbid conditions. Like the general population, many of us do. One of these is Bi-polar Disorder. As with so many disorders, I wonder how people survive being bipolar and how people survive living with a person with BPD. PBS sent a one-hour documentary about highly accomplished US individuals who are diagnosed as bipolar. Not all who struggle with this disease are able to be what society considers highly accomplished. Treatment is required for a person to live an average and healthy life.

Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, 2011

Dispelling the myths surrounding the outdated concept of nature vs. nurture is part of the documentary Zeitgeist: Moving Forward from 2011. “I have watched humanity set the stage for its own extinction. I have watched as precious finite resources are perpetually wasted and destroyed in the name of profit and free markets. I have watched the social values of society be reduced into a base artificiality of materialism and mindless consumption. And I have watched at the monetary powers control the political structure of a supposedly free society.” (from 7:45)