Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstrual management for women with disabilities, menstrual hygiene taboos, and menstrual cycle awareness

May 28th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

These two concurrent sessions address the menstrual-related challenges of women with disabilities, menstrual hygiene taboos and practices around the world,  and the concept of gynaecological self-help at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.

 

Menstrual Management, Friday, June 5th:

Women with Spinal Cord Injuries Talk about Menopause
Heather Dillaway, Wayne State University

Using data from interviews with 20 women with spinal cord injury, I illustrate how disabled women may think about and experience menopause. Overall, interviewees think positively about menopause as a release from the hassles of menstruation, but face unique experiences when dealing with perimenopausal symptoms. I also discuss their concerns about aging.

“Kahani Her Mahine Ki” – A Menstruation Kit for the visually impaired women
Sadhvi Thukral, National Institute of Design

“I am constantly worried that my dress will stain during my period, I cannot see.”

“I will never be able to tell the colour of my discharge during menstruation or when I need to change my cloth. To be safe, I change every few hours.”

These are unique anxieties of visually impaired young women.

A large gap exists in the area of “Communication for Menstruation” for the visually impaired. This design degree project was an attempt to fill this gap by developing a product for menstruation that would meet the needs of visually impaired girls and women.

The kit “Kahani Her Mahine Ki” (The Same Story Every Month) covers the subject of menstruation and how to manage during periods and has the following features:

1. Tactile diagrams and material in the form of Information Slates, with labels of the different body parts. Each slate has text for the sighted and Braille for the visually impaired. 2. A life size human body model for demonstration.

What they do, what we do, what I do: A critical review of five contemporary international surveys of menstrual management practices and technologies. How can these surveys inform Western practice? What areas remain to be surveyed?
Susannah Clemence, Independent researcher

This critical review compares the catalogues of contemporary menstrual management techniques from around the World, presented in Sommer et al (2013), House et al (2012), Kjellen et al (2012), Bharadwai and Patkar (2004) and Finley’s (1995-2015) Museum of Menstruation.

The purpose is to test how well-documented are contemporary practices across the World, and what areas remain yet unrecorded. The rationale is that diverse technologies and conduct, with their implicit beliefs and attitudes, grant us reference points from which to examine, critique and improve our own practices.

The review shows that there are large gaps in documented knowledge. Furthermore, other than the Museum of Menstruation, existing surveys tend to be rooted in development agendas of Western origin and tend to a deficit perspective of non-Western practices.

 

Menstrual Hygiene, Saturday, June 6th

A Vicious Cycle of Silence: The perpetuation of the menstrual hygiene ‘taboo’ and the implications for the realisation of the human rights of women and girls
Emily Wilson-Smith, Kampala International University & Robyn Boosey, University of Bristol 

Despite the impact of poor menstrual hygiene on the rights of women and girls it has remained largely neglected by International stakeholders. A document analysis of the core international human rights treaties and relevant human rights body reports found an overwhelming silence and an analysis of the existing references revealed an inadequate framework for addressing menstrual hygiene.

Improving Menstrual Health and Hygiene in India: Another critical path way for women emancipation
K Yadagiri, Centre for Economic and Social Studies,UNICEF Division for Child Studies 

Gynecological Self-Help Isn’t Just a Good Feeling – What we learned when we systematically studied our own menstrual cycles – and how you can learn MORE now!
Kathy Hodge, Feminist Women’s Health Center

In 1975, nine members of the Feminist Women’s Health Center collective met daily for over a month, recording changes in our vaginas and cervixes and their secretions, for PAP and ferning smears, charting moods and basal body temperature. We raised questions, some of which remain open and ripe for future woman-controlled research.

 Menstrual Hygiene Management practices in Slums: It’s impacts on the Women and Adolescent Girl’s Health – A Case study of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation Slums, Telangana State, INDIA
Venu Madhav Sharma, Centre for Economic and Social Studies

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artists: Erdem, Lewis, Paul & Weigel

May 27th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Forbidden” by Derya Erdem

Derya Erdem

My work takes a critical view of societal, political and cultural issues,  focusing on identity, gender binary and the human mind. Reflecting the emotional dimensions of personal memories, collected histories, and cultural myths, I constantly search for new possibilities, thriving on chance outcomes and the connections (physical and virtual) that link nature and the overlooked realities of our lives. As an artist concerned with real life stories, I am affected by those with untold, sometimes overwhelming, hidden perspectives.

These themes are often combined into experimental installations, employing different techniques which include: video, sound, photography, installation and site specific art. I am a curious artist using diverse exploratory technics, all of which I self produce.

Inspired by repetitive dreams and underpinned by memories , driven by my understanding of the female conditions and the manifestation of injustice in patriarchy, the issues of woman’s social and sexual conditioning have all formed the foundation of my current work.

Surreal quality images, revealing glimpses of potential possibilities, what latently exists in nature, suggesting different views of our external world, inviting the viewer to move into a space of speculation.

 

“The Crimson Wave” by Jen Lewis

Jen Lewis

If I have learned anything over the last two years of producing Beauty in Blood, it is that menstruation matters more than most people in society are willing to recognize; it is deeply embedded in our global body politics and is a major contributor to the vast gender inequity between men and women today. Institutionalized hierarchies maintain and support the outdated patriarchal belief that menstruation makes the female body inferior to the male body. Billions of dollars are spent annually trying to make women’s bodies conform to male “norms” by suppressing the natural menstrual cycle through hormonal birth control. The feminine “hygiene” industry perpetuates taboo thinking by suggesting the monthly cycle is dirty and socially impolite; it should be concealed in frilly pink wrappers like candy and only very loosely referenced with blue liquid in product commercials. In my experience, women and men are hungry for an authentic dialogue about menstruation and all that encompasses. It is clear the time is now to stand up and speak out on behalf of menstruation. It is a natural, messy but beautiful part of life. Just because it is not a shared experience doesn’t mean it needs to be a divisive topic that aids in gender inequity. Beauty in Blood asserts that menstruation needs to be seen to help normalize the female body and to acknowledge this part of the female experience by inviting the viewer to take a closer look and reflect on their personal gut reactions to the subject of “menstruation.”

 

“Hidden Abject” by Petra Paul

Petra Paul

Menstruarte – Showing the Abjection

As feminist I’m concerned primarily with woman as a theme, or the showing of the ways women are discriminated against in this patriarchal society. Menstruation is a stigmatic condition (Erving Goffman). Women are regarded as of lesser value, as the Other (Simone de Beauvoir). I’m concerned with showing this mechanism and at the same time with undermining it.

By using menstrual blood in my informel and monochrome work, I draw attention to the negative taboo and publicly show something that is usually kept secret – everything is done to make the time of menstruation as invisible as possible. Cleanliness and discretion are foremost. The leaking women were seen as unclean, and the unpure blood contrasted with the masculine, healing blood of Christ. So I called a serie of menstruation pictures „That’s the blood I’ve spilled for you”, the other simply “Menstruarte”. “Hidden Abject” shows blood through a small cut in the canvas. I try first through the completed abstract structure of the menstrual blood to make the viewer aware of the theme, and second, I use the aesthetic work to reverse the negative value. Menstrual blood is abject: “Not me. Not that. But not nothing, either” (Julia Kristeva).

 

“The Party” by Jennifer Weigel

Jennifer Weigel

I first began creating artworks incorporating menstrual fluid in 2005, pressing my menstrual vagina to watercolor paper each morning to make a series of monoprints.  My purpose in producing and exhibiting these works was to confront the taboo associated with menstruation, demystify this natural function of the female body, and promote thought-provoking discussion among women & men, artists & non-artists alike.

After exhibiting these pieces, I curated a St. Louis based exhibition, entitled Life Blood Exhibit, which traveled throughout the city and to Cape Girardeau, MO from 2011 – 2012.  I have also continued to explore female reproductive health, with artworks themed around celebrating women’s bodies to addressing health concerns (my own and others’) to the political and social arena (abortion, birth control, the confiscation of tampons at a July 2013 Texas legislative meeting…).

Exploring menstrual shame, embodiment, and the parameters of premenstrual distress

May 26th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Concurrent sessions on Saturday, June 6th explore unique cultural experiences of menstruation and delve into the parameters of premenstrual distress at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.


Strekkja (stretch, flexible) Original artwork by Magdalena Margrét. Used with permission.

Culture and Embodiment: 

Menstruation and objectification in an Icelandic context
Herdís Sveinsdóttir, University of Iceland

The aim of the study is to describe objectification among Icelandic women and how it relates to menstrual attitudes, women´s body consciousness and health behavior. Participants were 320 women aged 20-40 years drawn from the Register of Iceland in fall 2013. Findings regarding disordered eating and objectification will be discussed.

Shame, secrecy, or celebration: Experiences and constructions of menstruation across cultures
Alexandra Hawkey, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney 

Through qualitative interviews this study aims to reveal culturally specific experiences and constructions of menstruation with migrant women from a range of backgrounds, in Australia and Canada. Analysis of the data highlights a range of themes including, cultural silencing; celebration of the girl to women transition; and menstrual rules.

Black Women, Red Tent: Doing Blood Work and Recovery of Black Girlhood, Spirituality and Ritual Exclamations for Black Girl Periods
Sevonna Brown, Williams College

This project invites black women to explore their relationships to their menstruation and their bodies more holistically through a consideration of blood, spirituality, and monthly ritual. This conversation-making and interactive study anticipates collective issues of shame, survival, birth, infertility, sexuality and disease. The research inquiries desire to find Black women in their own Red Tent in celebration of their own bodies, reproductive mysteries, traumas and triumphs.

Premenstrual Distress:

Psychosocial factors associated with Premenstrual Syndrome
Ina Rosvall & Sandra Ekholm, University of Lund

Inspired by critical feminist research the association between PMS and psychosocial factors was studied using 1320 responses to a web survey. 33,9% of the total variance in PMS could be predicted, emphasizing the importance of social norms, family structure and relational factors over hormones in the understanding of premenstrual distress.

Sarafem Redux: PMDD, Antidepressants, and Big Pharma
Shannon M. Peters, Madeline Brodt & Lisa Cosgrove, University of Massachusetts 

Industry-facilitated approval of antidepressants was used to justify inclusion of PMDD in the DSM-5. We provide data on industry funding of clinical trials of antidepressants for the treatment of PMDD, discuss the consequences of these commercial ties, and discuss the role of implicit bias in psychiatric research.

Evaluation of the relative efficacy and mechanisms of a couple-based intervention for Premenstrual Syndrome through a randomised control trial
Janette Perz & Jane Ussher, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney

120 women took part in a randomised controlled trial comparing one-to-one and couple psychological therapy for PMS, in comparison to a wait list control group. Whilst women in all three conditions reported reductions in premenstrual distress and improvements in coping, women in the couple condition reported significantly greater reductions in distress post-intervention.

Measuring the Syndrome: An Introduction to the Measurement of Premenstrual Distress Disorders
Marie Hansen, Long Island University Brooklyn

This presentation will cover the history of the scientific measurement of Premenstrual Disorders and will explore the way in which these disorders are measured by researchers today. Included will be an analysis of two widely used scales: Premenstrual Tension Syndrome Observer Scale/ Self-Rating Scale (PMTS-O/SR) and the Daily Record of Severity of Problems (DRSP).

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Culture, menstrual narratives, and the messy politics of reproductive freedom

May 23rd, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Two workshops explore the menstrual health/awareness and reproductive justice connection on Saturday, June 6th at  at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.

POLITICS IS A MESSY BUSINESS: Menstrual Health, Reproductive Health Advocacy, Human Rights and Justice
Sharon L. Powell, Artist and Educator, S L Powell Public Affairs Services

Original image by Sharon L. Powell

Menstruation is part of the spectrum of reproductive health. Menstruation and menstrual cycle discourse takes up space as marker in the health and identity of female bodied individuals as well as in constructions of fertility. As such, it is on a reproductive health advocacy agenda. Menstrual health and menstrual health education are cornerstones of a reproductive health advocacy framework. Human rights and social justice movements concerned with self determination, health, human dignity, privacy, and bodily integrity, should pay political attention to menstrual health’s crucial and complicated place in an interdependent web of reproductive health concerns.

Social and chemical control of fertility is specifically connected to the hormones associated with the menstrual cycle. Menstrual shame. Hysteria. Sexualization. Contraceptive and other reproductive technologies. How does one truly consent to the use of reproductive innovations like hormonal birth control if they do not understand the hormonal patterns they are born with or acquire? Reproductive justice groups and reproductive health advocates must look at issues of self determination with an intersectional lens, acknowledging female bodied individuals’s multiplicity. It is important to explore and create opportunities for female bodied individuals to learn more about their bodies, not just lobby for abstract concepts of reproductive freedom.

Twenty years ago, I presented a paper at the Society’s conference in Montreal, Canada called “Better Dead Than Pregnant: Trends in Contraception – A Case for Menstruation Education.” Connecting my critiques of trends in non-user/”woman” controlled methods of contraception with myths of inconvenience regarding menstruation and convenience regarding methods of contraception, I made connections to the messy politics of reproductive freedom, the differences in the experiences for women of color, women with disabilities, and poor women with this focus on menstruation and the menstrual cycle. My contention that women from these communities were “better dead than pregnant” was picked up by other reproductive rights activists (such as Andrea Smith in her book Conquest). Subsequently, Malcolm Gladwell’s article, “John Rock’s Error, ” detailed how a myth of inconvenience regarding menstruation may have played a role in the development of the oral contraceptive pill.

Our Bodies, Our Stories: Celebrating the Menstrual Narratives of Womanhood
Deborah Dauda, LEPA & Kirthi Jayakumar, Red Elephant Fund

This workshop will look at culture and menstruation by sharing stories and testimonies of women from all over the world and the impact of open conversations in creating comfortable spaces for women to celebrate their womanhood through menstruation. In addition, we will welcome participants to share their own testimonies and stories, along with a session on simple “what-if” scenarios to encourage community conduct and resource sharing.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Menstrual education perspectives from Africa, India, Bangladesh, and the United States

May 22nd, 2015 by Laura Wershler

 Menstrual Education perspectives from around the world will be presented in two concurrent sessions at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston. The conference theme is Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice.


Menstrual Education Concurrent Session Friday, June 5th:

Confident Girls in Charge of their Own Lives
Chantal Heutink, Bilhah Anyango, Jackline Obado & Goretty Obure, Afri-Can Trust

Girls grow up feeling ashamed due to limited knowledge about menstruation and lack of proper sanitary means to take care of themselves during this period creates a huge backlog to these girls hence denying them the opportunity to take their place in the society. Menstrual Hygiene Management matters are important to bridge the gap and provide a pathway towards confident girls in charge of their lives.

Factors impacting on the menstrual hygiene among school going adolescent girls in Mongu District, Zambia
Anne Mutunda Lahme, Akros Global Health, Zambia 

The research showed that in a Zambian context the process of menstruation can turn into a threat to girls’ social, physical and mental well-being and ultimately their school careers, causing gender discrimination and violation of their rights. It also creates an atmosphere of emotional stress, leading to poor school performance.

GrowUp Smart: Demystifying the link between menstruation, fertility and sexuality
Jennifer Gayles, Kim Ashburn & Marie Mukabatsinda, Georgetown University Institute for Reproductive Health, @IRH_GU

GrowUp Smart is an interactive puberty education program for adolescents, parents and communities that links knowledge of the menstrual cycle to improved understanding of fertility and better reproductive health outcomes. This presentation will discuss findings from evaluation of the intervention’s effect on sexual and reproductive health knowledge, attitudes and behaviors.

 

Menstrual Education Concurrent Session Saturday, June 6th:

Health Education and Menstruation: What’s happening in the classroom?
Jax Gonzalez, Brandeis University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Preliminary research on educator’s familiarity teaching health education in elementary schools suggests that teachers experience a multitude of limitations when administering the curriculum. By using sociological theory through an intersectional lens this qualitative study provides an important insight into the lived experience of teaching the taboo.

Making Schools Menstrual Friendly: Enhancing experience of girls in public schools
Dhirendra Pratap Singh, Azadi Inc.

A presentation of findings and analysis from the Menstrual Friendly School Program in Balrampur District, Uttar Pradesh, India – an initiative to address the menstruation management needs of girls’ at school so that puberty does not result in school drop out, a risk facing ~30% of India’s 87.5 million adolescent girls.

Menstrual Hygiene Practices of Girls in Rural India
Rita Jalali, American University 

The purpose of this study was to understand menstrual hygiene practices of poor girls living in rural India; their unmet menstrual management needs; and knowledge and awareness about menstruation and commercial napkins. Data were collected through survey, focus group discussions and diary entries and show how poverty and water deprivation impact hygiene.

Borohawa | Grown Up Girl – A short film on managing menstruation in rural Bangladesh
Sara Liza Baumann, Old Fan Films & Richard A. Cash, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Whether you live in South America, Africa, Europe or Asia, all women undergo a natural experience that signifies their transition from childhood to adulthood. It may have different cultural significance, and women have a variety of different experiences, but menstruation is a biological event that women around the world share. Setting out with the goal of increasing understanding of these questions, we traveled to a school in Mymensingh, Bangladesh to gather perspectives from adolescent school girls through this short film project.

 

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Young women’s experiences with cancer-related infertility, and HPV vaccine uptake and avoidance in Eastern Europe

May 21st, 2015 by Laura Wershler

This session will explore Cancer and Menstruation at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.

The Significance of Menstrual Flow for Young Women with Cancer-Related Infertility
Kathryn Nattress, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney

Although the dominant menstrual discourse is one of pain, mess and unpredictability, interviews with 20 young women who were diagnosed with cancer in childhood and adolescence suggest the possibility of alternative discourses. Five themes were identified:

1) A mark of womanhood: “People would talk about puberty or periods like it’s a foregone conclusion that everybody has them. So I would feel a little like I was orbiting and slightly outside of other women.”

2) Connection or disconnection: “People would talk about their periods and what a pain they were. I loved it because it made me feel more like a woman.” For others their differing experience led to disconnection.

3) Menstruation as a signifier of fertility: “I told everyone when I got my period back, I was so excited.”

4) Considering menstruation as abnormal: “My periods are very odd…It was like a tap, it just did not turn off.”

5) Maintaining a natural cycle: “Here I am, trying to do the natural fertility, and not be on the contraceptive pill, and really do everything to have a good cycle, and keep my hormones balanced.”

These young women strongly resisted contemporary, dominant patriarchal discourses and instead accommodated historical, matriarchal discourses where menstruation is seen as a powerful and sacred symbol of life and fertility. Their experiences provide greater understanding of the significance of menstruation for women with cancer-related infertility and allow alternative discourses to be explored.

Young women’s constructions of their post-cancer fertility
Amy Dryden, Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney

Young women diagnosed with cancer often face compromised fertility as a result of their treatment. However, little is known about young women’s constructions and experiences of their fertility post-cancer, or their interactions with healthcare professionals in discussing fertility concerns.

Semi-structured one-to-one interviews were conducted with 8 women aged 18-26 across a variety of cancer types including breast and brain tumours, leukaemia, lymphoma and sarcoma. Foucaultian Discourse Analysis identified three subject positions associated with fertility concerns: Inadequate woman: Accepting the motherhood mandate; Adequate woman: Resisting the motherhood mandate; and Survival of the fittest: Woman as genetically defective. Implications for subjectivity included feelings of inadequacy, fear and devastation; feeling undesirable to romantic partners due to compromised fertility; and feelings of guilt and worry about passing on cancer-positive genes. For the majority of participants, motherhood was constructed as an essential component of what they wanted to accomplish in their lives. Alternative pathways to motherhood (i.e adoption, egg donation) were constructed favourably by the majority of participants, although some constructed these options as inferior to biological motherhood.

Overall results suggest that issues surrounding fertility were important to this group of cancer survivors, and that compromised fertility can negatively impact on the subjectivity of young women with cancer. As such, the results reinforce the importance of the provision of information about fertility by healthcare professionals amongst a demographic who remain underserved in the area of reproductive health.

Constructing the HPV vaccine in the context of Eastern Europe
Irina Todorova, Northeastern University & Health Psychology Research Center, Sofia, Bulgaria 

An image about the HPV vaccine circulating in Bulgaria. The text reads “Attention: poisonous vaccine!”

This research paper explores the relevance of local context for understanding meanings, discourses and disparities related to uptake and avoidance of a vaccine for the prevention of Human Papilloma virus (HPV) transmission, associated with cervical and other cancers, in Bulgaria and Romania.

Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women worldwide, and differences between and within country disparities are striking. Instead of falling, as in many other countries of Eastern and most countries of Western Europe, cervical cancer morbidity and mortality rates in Bulgaria and Romania have been rising. The vaccine embodies an array of personal and cultural meanings and discourses, including those of responsibility, control, morality, health rights, and gender. It also represents multiple interests of many actors, whose attitudes vary depending on local meanings of sexuality, religious beliefs, stigma, their experiences and trust in the health care system.

Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with women, health-care providers and key informants, as well as focus groups with parents, and analyzed thematically. The paper will share dimensions of women’s narratives related to personal experiences, cultural constructions of gender, and the relevant structural and policy contexts in which vaccination behaviors are constituted. The discussion will address the relevance of history, healthcare policy and gendered attitudes in Bulgaria and Romania for the constitution of preventive attitudes and behaviors, and critically reflect on what a consideration of local meanings of medical interventions means for equitable health promotion.

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Falzone, Marie & Rehavia

May 20th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Threaded Together” by Johanna Falzone

Johanna Falzone

Threaded Together is a Site-Specific Installation work previously on view at a Howard Johnson Motel. This work symbolizes how all women have a common thread, being through menstruation. Each pad and tampon is stitched differently to show how each woman may feel about this cycle. Images range from loving, reproductive, to squiggle blobs interpreting these impressions on what menstruation symbolizes. The installation was placed with the toilet because this is where women go to change tampons and pads. The toilet is also where fortunate or unfortunate reproductive events may take place such as miscarriage or using a pregnancy test. No matter how a woman feels about reproduction, this is a cycle women all have in common. It is why women must empathize with one another and also celebrate despite what one’s personal beliefs may be.

 

 

“Death of Fertility” by Elaine Marie

Elaine Marie

Death of Fertility is part of the Talitha Cumi series. This painting is about menopause and the end of procreation. The woman in this painting ponders her reproductive years. The fertility doll, anthurium flower, stagnant water, Sande statue, and grass skirt provide clues to the hidden messages in the painting. The fertility doll represents the years I spent battling infertility prior to the birth of my son. The anthurium flower blooms in Hawaii where I lived immediately after my marriage. It represents the birth of my first born. The stagnant red water represents menopause. The African statues on the left are from the Sande Society. The Sande Society promotes women’s’ political and social status and solidarity. Inspired by Surrealist and Symbolist art, the painting is infused with other symbols the viewer must interpret and discover.

 

“Cutting” by Dafna Rehavia

 

Dafna Rehavia

I am an Israeli-born artist and art-therapist, living in Pittsburgh PA, US.

My work is informed by a critical, feminist, and multicultural approach.  I deal with themes that are related to survivalidentity and healing, and their complex relationship to women’s experience. Through my art work Cutting I challenge the objectified and dehumanized phenomenon of Female Genital Mutilation that is still practiced in various cultures which respond to authoritative discourse. It is through the artistic object that I would like to bring recognition, awareness and visibility to what is a fundamental violation of womens’ bodies and rights. The use of art exposes the viewer to what is so hard to face and tolerate.  This body of works is made of molding clay that was kneaded, shaped, pocked, cut and stitched with dry leaves and strings and stained in reddish-brown tint.

 

 

 

For more information, visit www.wideningthecycle.com. For questions, please email the curator and exhibit planner, Jen Lewis, at info [at] wideningthecycle [dot] com.

Menstrual Hygiene, Human Rights, and Gender Equality – A Focus on the Global South

May 18th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Scholars and practitioners from the fields of human rights and water and sanitation will discuss menstrual hygiene from the perspective of gender equality on June 4th at the  21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.

Human Rights in the Private Sphere: Menstrual Hygiene as a Priority for Gender Equality and Human Dignity
Inga Winkler, Scholar-in-residence, Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, NYU School of Law 

In many countries, menstruation is shrouded in taboo and secrecy. Removing the taboos and ensuring better access to menstrual hygiene is essential for achieving gender equality and realizing human rights. The presentation seeks to explore human rights obligations to create an enabling environment for women and girls to practice adequate menstrual hygiene. It discusses various strategies including awareness-raising and breaking taboos, promoting good hygiene, and embedding menstrual hygiene in policies and programs by using examples from different country contexts. With a topic as personal and culturally specific as menstruation, incorporating women’s and girls’ views and preferences into programs and policies cannot be overestimated.

Poor menstrual hygiene, stigmatization, or cultural, social or religious practices that limit menstruating women’s and girls’ capacity to work, to get an education, or to engage in society must be eradicated. Considering menstruation as a fact of life and integrating this view at all levels will contribute to enabling women and girls to manage their menstruation adequately, without shame and embarrassment—with dignity.

Investigate and Expose: Challenges in Building an Evidence Base around Menstrual Hygiene as a Human Rights Issue
Amanda Klasing, Researcher, Human Rights Watch

Menstrual hygiene has emerged recently as a human rights issue, but this recognition alone does not mean that human rights practitioners will take up the issue. One barrier is the perceived or real limitations in their methodology.

This paper considers how human rights fact-finding methods may not readily lend themselves to building the evidence base for menstrual hygiene as a human rights concern. It will explore examples of how, despite challenges, menstrual hygiene concerns can be exposed within the context of broader investigations and it will address how practitioners can more deliberately incorporate menstrual hygiene in their investigations.

An important first step is for researchers to recognize the impact of menstrual hygiene on a broad array of women’s and girls’ human rights. Next, researchers should consider how best to expose this in the course of their research. Finally, researchers should consider how to include menstrual hygiene in the recommendations it makes to governments and other duty bearers.

Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools: Meeting Girls’ Rights and Needs in Zambia
Sarah Fry, Hygiene and School WASH Advisor, USAID WASHplus Project

Image by Sarah Fry

Zambia’s schools fall short of acceptable standards and ratios for access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. The ratio of girls to toilet can be as high as 200:1. These shortfalls are believed to be factor in the high rate of school drop-out among girls, many of whom do not even finish primary school. As in other low-income contexts, dropout rates for girls in Zambia appear to increase after puberty. Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is burdened with cultural taboo and myths. Girls are still excluded from school for as long as one month at their first menses.

USAID/SPLASH in Zambia address girls’ right to education by removing barriers to menstrual hygiene management in schools. SPLASH and the Ministry of Education research cultural norms, improve girl-friendly facilities and access to menstrual products, break taboos, and integrate MHM in the education system through water, sanitation and hygiene in schools

Menstruation is still a sensitive topic, but experience in Zambia has shown that taboos can break down rapidly and MHM can become a normal part of discourse around girls’ rights at local and policy levels.

 

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

 

How do women’s menstrual beliefs impact their contraceptive decision-making?

May 16th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

I’m looking forward to chairing this panel presentation exploring the intersections of contraception and menstrual health beliefs on Friday morning, June 5th, at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.  The conference theme is Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Photo courtesy of Jen Lewis

Dueling Medicines: Contraception and Deeply Rooted Beliefs in Menstruation as a Health-giving Process

This panel will address women’s poor use, misuse, and rejection of medical contraception in Africa, the U.S., and other parts of the world. The first panelist will focus on Sub-Saharan women who either reject or stop using contraceptive pharmaceuticals when they become aware of the irregularities in their periods caused by the drugs. Next is an examination of how women in the U.S. who use natural family planning misuse or stop using medical contraception because of their desire for “normal” and “healthy” periods. The last presentation will work to connect Sub-Saharan women’s faith in a pan-African water spirit called Mami Wata to their reluctance to use contraception; the paper will hypothesize that that this popular divinity is ultimately rooted in a sophisticated prehistoric cosmology that analogized menstruation to universal, life-giving patterns of flow in nature and, thus, saw it as the hermeneutic that established and sustained human culture.

Method Mistrust: How women’s mistrust of family planning methods which interfere with their menstrual cycles leads to unmet need, incorrect contraceptive use, and method discontinuation
Ann Moore, Guttmacher Institute, @Guttmacher

Many hormonal contraceptives alter women’s menstrual cycles, making periods last longer, flow heavier or lighter, spot throughout the month, or simply stop. Because women widely mistrust such methods, they often resist, misuse, or stop using them. Based on data from developing and developed countries, this paper shows how wanting “normal” periods adds to their risk of unwanted pregnancy.

I shouldn’t mess around on those days: How women’s’ beliefs about their fertility and their menstrual cycles affect their contraceptive use
Lori Frohwirth, Guttmacher Institute

While modern contraception allows women to think about their cycles only in terms of hygiene and convenience, data show that many women view menstruation as a sign of good physical and reproductive health. This paper explores how the beliefs of American women about menstruation affects their use of the Fertility Awareness Method in combination with hormonal and barrier methods.

The Rainbow Goddess and the Rainbow Snake: Mami Wata Worship as a Source of African Women’s Belief in Menstruation as Medicine
Jacqueline Thomas, PhD, Independent Researcher 

Sub-Saharan women often reject hormonal contraceptives, citing belief in the salutary/reproductive benefits of regular periods. This paper argues that this belief likely reflects faith in the snake-entwined Mami Wata, a popular pan-African wealth/fertility deity. It hypothesizes that Mami Wata (aka the Rainbow Goddess) is a modern-day expression of the Rainbow Snake—a prehistoric menstruation-regulating African/Australian water spirit embodying a sophisticated cosmology that held women’s cycle-based solidarity as responsible for earthly order and human happiness.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

This post was revised and updated on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 12:35 p.m. MST.


Menstrual education and hygiene management initiatives seek collaborators

May 15th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

 Two experiential workshops on Friday, June 5th, invite participants to collaborate in menstrual health initiatives at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston. With one in the morning and one in the afternoon, you can take in both!

Menstruation Matters: Period! – A Public Education Campaign Whose Time Has Not Yet Come
Presenters:
Heather Guidone – Director, Center for Endometriosis Care; Medical Writer; Women’s Health Educator
Diana Karczmarczyk, PhD – Adjunct Professor, George Mason University and Senior Analyst, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
Evelina Sterling, PhD—Visiting Professor, Kennesaw State University and Public Health Consultant, Southern Research and Evaluation Institute
Peggy Stubbs, PhD— Professor, Chatham University

How might menstrual arts and crafts be included in menstrual cycle education campaigns?
Photo by Laura Wershler

 

 

 

As menstrual cycle educators and advocates, we know all too well the frustrations and inadequacies related to menstrual cycle education targeting the general public. This hands-on workshop provides participants the opportunity to contribute to designing effective public health education messaging grounded in health education theory and strategies which address the importance of menstruation to girls’s and women’s health and well-being.

Building Better Solutions for Monitoring and Evaluation in Menstrual Hygiene Management
Presenters from Pasand (USA), @PasandTeam, Pasand on Facebook:
Rebecca Scharfstein, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Ashley Eberhart, Co-Founder and Director of Marketing
Allison Behringer, Director of Partnerships
Lacy Clark, Monitoring & Evaluation Project Lead, MBA Intern

According to often-cited data, 88% of women do not have access to sanitary protection (instead using “cloth, husks, mud, and ash”), and 23% percent of girls drop out of school upon menarche. In the field, however, questions come to mind, such as: “Who are these women using rags because we can’t find them!” While shocking statistics about menstrual hygiene management have been used successfully in recent years to generate an unprecedented level of interest in the topic, how can we avoid inflammatory statements, recognize geographical and socioeconomic nuances, and develop quantitative rigor in a relatively new field?

In this workshop, participants will discuss challenges in monitoring and evaluation in the menstrual hygiene management sector through an interactive human-centered design workshop approach. We will use Pasand, a social venture that partners with schools and NGOs in India to teach women’s health and provide access to affordable sanitary protection, as a case study and present four challenges the organization faces with respect to data collection.

Participants will be divided into facilitated “challenge teams,” each assigned with the task of collaboratively identifying solution(s) to one of the challenges presented. At the end of the session, groups will share their solutions, and individuals will come away with a deeper understanding of effective monitoring and evaluation in the sector, as well as new ideas that can be implemented in their own work.

In the days following the conference, Pasand will compile a summary of the ideas and major themes coming out of the workshop and send to participants so that they can take the results back to their own organizations, expanding the reach beyond the walls of the workshop.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan. 

“Widening the Cycle” Featured Artist Trio: Dragoon, Gonzalez & Rouncefield

May 13th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

“Power” by Stephanie Dragoon

 

Stephanie Dragoon

Menstrual paintings challenge traditional conceptions of art. It is an invitation to see the value and depth of the body, to create meaning where mainstream discourse allocates shame or silence. This series incorporates statements from Bikini Kill’s Riot Grrrl Manifesto (1991) and personal pieces inspired by powerful women and period positivity.

 

 

 

 

“Hybrid I” by Suzy Gonzalez

 

 

Suzy Gonzalez

To consider menstrual blood an art medium is to acknowledge its natural pigmented elements. It is to praise the menstrual cycle as a means for creativity rather than anxiety. Human and animal bodily objects such as hair, feathers, and blood can be found in my work as an exploration of detachment. Once they’re separated from the being, these materials become purely object. Blood tends to represent outcomes of violence, yet there is tranquility involved in the release of menstruation. I am particularly captivated by the correlation of those beings who bleed cyclically and those who bleed forcefully. I hybridize fragments of humans, animals, and objects into impossible creatures who live in a world that knows no binary. Using the same palette amongst forms allows the dismembered limbs to form a newly birthed being.

 

 

 

 

“She’s Got the Painters In” by Suzy Gonzalez

 

Mary Rouncefield

These images all feature the use of watercolour which has been allowed to flow and take its own direction, with minimum intervention from myself. I felt that this was appropriate as menstruation is a natural process which takes its own course. Four of the images are framed in an enclosed ‘womb-like’ space, with random flows of paint and water encircling other elements. My least favourite image is ‘She’s Got The Painters In’; but it illustrates an expression from Northern England- which I myself have only ever heard said by men (usually with a snigger). I decided to ‘re-appropriate’ this expression by making the ‘painters’ female rather than male. In the other images I have tried to portray a more ‘dream-like’ state with more positive connotations. It annoys me that men generally tend to ridicule women experiencing menstruation – yet without that process, new life could not be generated. Image 4: ‘Duality’ represents both the ‘glamorous’ side of being a woman and the more uncomfortable processes of menstruation and child birth.

 

 

For more information, visit www.wideningthecycle.com. For questions, please email the curator and exhibit planner, Jen Lewis, at info [at] wideningthecycle [dot] com.

 

Religious and cultural menstrual traditions, Jewish ritual around menstruation, and abortion rights in Israel

May 11th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Three papers will explore the theme Religion and Reproductive Rights and Traditions on June 4th at 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston

Tour a Jewish ritual bath on a Mikveh Visit with Mayyim Hayyim, a pre-conference event on Wednesday, June 3, 3:30-5:30 p.m. The Jewish ritual bath is intended to mark transitional moments, including niddah (the practice of monthly immersion following menstruation). This event it open to the public.

Menstruation and Reproductive Practices: Religion and Traditions and the Influence of Immigration on Mother-Daughter Dyads across Cultures
Sheryl Mendinger, PhD, Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice, Northeastern University &
Julie Cwikel, PhD, The Center for Women’s Health Studies and Promotion, 
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel

A menstrual hut in Ethiopia. Image provided by Sheryl Mendlinger.

“In Ethiopia there is no rest until you go to the hut, only during menstruation the women rests.”

This paper presents a theoretical analysis of in-depth interviews with multicultural mother-daughter dyads and quantitative data that examines how women from different cultural and religious backgrounds view menstruation and family planning practices. Both of those practices changed rapidly among both mothers and daughters following immigration to Israel.

Some of the themes identified in this analysis include traditions, ceremonies and religious observance in relation to menarche, such as European women and ‘the slap’ and Ethiopian women going to the menstrual hut during their menstrual cycles. In terms of family planning, the data show how women from Ethiopia practiced extensive breastfeeding and women from the CIS used therapeutic abortions as birth control. Both of those practices—menstruation and family planning—changed rapidly among both mothers and daughters, following immigration to Israel. The move away from a tradition that is passed down from mother to daughter may also reflect a movement from a ‘mother to daughter’ model of knowledge transmission to a ‘peer to peer’ channel of transmission.

The Jewish Ritual around Menstruation: How “Family Purity” Laws Affect Modern Women
Naomi Marmon Grumet, PhD, The Eden Center, Jerusalem, Israel

The Jewish rituals surrounding menstruation are complex. For those who observe the religious framework, these rituals affect and circumscribe actions throughout the monthly cycle. This lecture will explore the scope of these rituals, and how modern women make meaning of the practice of these ancient laws.

The presentation will give voice to a range of Jewish women’s experiences with the framework of these laws, often known as taharat hamishpacha. This aspect is based upon formal interviews with more than 70 religious women (as well as separate interviews with their husbands) who are observant of taharat hamishpacha, and informal discussions with dozens of others.

Abortion Legal Rights in Israel: Reproductive and Sexual Health
Yael Magen, Esq., Multigenerational Family Law and Taxes

In Judaism a fetus is not considered a “nefesh”, a soul, or a human being, until it is born.

This presentation will present an overview of the abortion issue in Israel including Israel’s legal system, Jewish legal position of the fetus vs. the mother, Israeli legislative history, and its applicability and practicality in Israel today.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference.

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.