Menstruation, periods, rags, Aunt Flo, or sik mun (if you are in Vanuatu) – whatever you call it – “it” is certainly attracting a lot of media interest these days.
In fact, ‘Period. End of Sentence’ just won Best Documentary short subject at the 2019 Academy Awards.
Despite still being taboo, people are really starting to speak openly about menstruation.
Set in India where only 12 per cent of girls and women have access to disposable sanitary products, the documentary examines the damage of not being able to openly talk about menstruation. The story is a grim reminder of the basic obstacles millions of women still face in this world.
Set in a small rural district, menstrual blood is considered dirty and shameful. Most girls can’t use or afford sanitary pads, and many drop out of school once they begin menstruating. Adult women often remain in their homes when they get their periods because of a lack of sanitary pads and shame.
In the story, a group of American girls raise money to buy a simple machine that allows local women to make pads, for their use and to sell. The machine, and having employment, liberates them not only physically but also economically and emotionally.
The documentary was a break-through as it went against all of the taboos. It also highlights that the taboos and shame around menstruation is certainly not exclusive to Vanuatu.
In New Zealand, people still wince when I tell them of the four-year journey I’ve been on, developing and supporting a team in Vanuatu who are tackling the tricky topic of menstruation and the associated issues.
They love the good news part of the story, but talking about menstruation can still make them uncomfortable – men and women.
Yes, it’s almost 4 years since that little idea entered my head – “how can I develop a locally owned enterprise in Vanuatu where women have access to environmentally-friendly, Pacific-appropriate, locally-produced menstrual pads”.
Who wouldn’t want to take menstruation out of the cupboard? The impact of doing so is tremendous. Women (of all ages) begin to feel good about themselves – and that my friend, cannot be a bad thing AT ALL.
It’s not been an easy task for myself or the loyal and brave team in Vanuatu. We have stuck together through this and I’m thrilled to be able to share with you a huge milestone we have recently achieved.
With support and guidance from the Frontier Innovators programme which is funded through Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Australia, Mamma’s Laef Vanuatu now exists as a social enterprise in Vanuatu – locally owned and operated and they are supported by the Mamma’s Laef Charitable Trust in New Zealand.
That is no small feat I can assure you.
Mamma’s Laef Vanuatu is now owned and operated by Mary and Jack Kalsrap, who have been on board with this idea from the very beginning. They are currently employing 5 part time workers. Many of these women had never had stable income before, and are now gaining in skills, independence and confidence.
To support the development to ensure a sustainable future, Mamma’s Laef Vanuatu are supported by the Mamma’s Laef Charitable Trust (a registered charity – CC56057). Tina is the other Trustee and has been a mentor to me throughout the research phase to the implementation and delivery of the manufacturing and awareness tasks. In Vanuatu, Mary, Jack and Belinda formalised the partnership of the two entities, by signing a Memorandum of Understanding – and we sealed that by sharing a bowl of kava – an appropriate way to acknowledge the event.
It hasn’t been all paperwork and business arrangements. Since December 2015, the Vanuatu team have provided menstrual health awareness to more than 2,500 women and 250 men; worked with 10 organisations to provide 3,500 women across Vanuatu with reusable, environmentally-friendly menstrual products, which are locally made. We are proud of that achievement and knowing the positive impact this has provided to ni Vanuatu.
Donations can now be accepted in New Zealand via the new Give A Little Page (which will go live during the first week of March 2019) or directly to Mamma’s Laef Charitable Trust bank account. All donations over $5 are valid for an Inland Revenue Rebate (so that means you can receive 30% refund on the amount you donate, when filing your tax return with IRD New Zealand).
2019 will be a year of personal growth as we develop our skills with the vision to “Support women to take control of their futures” – bring it on.
Mi lukim yu, Belinda