Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Conference

After a whirlwind of a summer, we are, a little belatedly, finishing our post from the SMCR Conference from early June.

Sounds quirky, but believe it or not, there were over 200 people at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference in NYC in early June.  Sarah and I have been looking forward to this conference for two years!  The Society has been facilitating multidisciplinary dialogue and research about the importance of the menstrual cycle to women’s health since 1979.  Scientist, artists, public health researchers, and gender/sexuality experts converged on Manhattan Marymount College for three days of sharing.

On Thursday evening, Sarah represented Sustainable Cycles at the Poster Presentation session– Our display was a big map of the United States with Rachel’s route pinned out. I hung up samples of cloth pads, menstrual cups, and sea sponges, and brought in all the materials of our fresh-off-the-press Educator’s Packets! Most people there already knew and love re-useables, although cups were new to a few people, even at this conference! That evening I gave away three Educator’s Packets to 3 awesome new spokeswomen.

Nita Padavil, one of our newest spokeswomen, is a soon-to-be second year medical student at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, hoping to become an OB/GYN. She is especially interested in how the hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle underpin a woman’s health and wellbeing throughout her lifespan. Her first Sustainable Cycles event was in July at the Englewood Community Health Fair, which took place in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood which is predominantly African American and working class.

From Nita:

“One awesome moment: two teenage girls came by and were very excited by both the reusable pads and cup. One even said that our table was the most helpful one they’d been at in the entire fair. Another great moment: One man was sold on the idea of resuable products when he realized this would mean no longer having to make monthly trips to the drugstore for his wife’s Always Maxipads.
“I also talked with a few women I knew from the women’s homeless shelter, (the shelter was the organizing entity for this fair). One was very excited by the idea of reusable products but disappointed that we didn’t have any samples to give away, as she is of very limited financial means.
Overall, this menstrual activism effort was a great success. It even led to conversations among some of my fellow medical students, female and male, who hadn’t heard of these products before. I’m thinking that my next outreach event will be at my medical school, to let my peers know about these products so that they’ll be able to recommend them to patients they see.”
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I feel so lucky to have met Nita. We will be looking forward to hearing about her work in the future!
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There were some serious rock stars at this conference!  We could not possibly list them all, but Alessandra Leri,  Chella Quint, and Chris Bobel illustrate the diversity of the group…

Conventional tampons and pads are bleached with chlorine, and contain some unknown concentration or organocloride chemicals (some in the form of dioxins).  We got to hear Alessandra Leri, a chemist at Manhattan Marymount College talk about her latest work attempting to measure the toxicity of tampons.  With strong results, this research could be part of an attempt to get bleach out of tampons!

Chella Quint is a comedy writer, performer, artist, activist, zine editor, and health educator who lives in the UK.  She did a comedy show during lunch on Saturday which included:

  • A video of a girl walking around a mall with a huge period stain on her white jeans… plus everyones’ reactions.
  • A pitch for her Stain (TM) product line – stylish red patches in the shape of a stain that you can stick on the back of your pants.
  • And best of all, an educational song about the menstrual cycle, that she thinks would be ideal for Sesame Street.  We will have to ask her if we can share it here.  It’s seriously been stuck in my head for days.  She had the whole conference doing a sing-along.

Chris Bobel, a Women’s Studies professor at U Mass Boston, felt like the hostess of the event – she did a ton or work to organize, and was clearly in a state of bliss the entire time.   MORE

We met some menstruation education sisters!  M.A.R.C. (Menstration Activist Research Collective), was co-founded by two students at Arizona State University, Jaqueline J. Gonzalez and Stephanie Robinson.  They have their own version of an “educators packet,” and their own spin on a menstrual product workshop.  It was fascinating to attend their workshop on menstrual activism.

We have big crushes on two different organizations doing work with menstrual products in the developing world… and we got to meet representatives of both organizations at the conference!

  • Zana Africa is a non-profit working with local people to create business out of biodegradable, affordable cloth pads for women and girls. By making affordable sanitary pads, delivering health education, and informing policy, Zana Africa creates new opportunities for women and girls to thrive as focused students, productive workers, and informed mothers.

“The Problem: 65% of women and girls in Kenya cannot afford pads. This means that over 850,000 girls miss 6 weeks of school every year and women miss valuable work hours. The problem is worse across East Africa with 4 in 5 unable to afford pads. Reusable pads and rags are the alternatives, but can be unhygienic, leading to long-term health complications. They also cause embarrassing leaks. Girls would rather stay home than risk such humiliation.

The Solution: produce the lowest-cost, most eco-responsible sanitary pad in the world and to provide large-scale, cascading impact to women and intermediary partners through distribution. By 2020 Zana Africa will directly support 3 million girls and women with their pads, to sustainably win back 5 million school days, 2 million work hours and $1 million to reinvest in their families. They will equip 23,000 saleswomen to earn an additional $100/year.”

  • Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE): helps local women in developing countries jump-start their own businesses to manufacture and distribute affordable, quality, and eco-friendly sanitary pads.  SHE  uses local raw materials, instead of  imported materials, to ensure affordability and accessibility.banana fiber  SHE will couple its product innovation with a financially sustainable business model operated and owned by women in the community that can be replicated wherever the need exists.  SHE will instigate the launch of a local business by
    • Partnering with existing local women’s networks;
    • Ensuring a microfinance loan for women who will share start-up costs;
    • Training local group in necessary business skills and health and hygiene.

Check out their promo video and join the SHE28Campaign!

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To say that we were inspired by this conference would be an understatement. The collective power, vision, and intelligence of this group of people sent us off feeling a charged excitement about this work, but also with questions of how Sustainable Cycles can be most effective. We are happy to continue giving away Educator’s Packets and resources to new Spokeswomen as we meet them, but we’ve decided that, for now at least, we’d like to focus on making more bike trips happen. Our goal is to support at least one trip per year.

This year we will be inviting women to apply to take a Sustainable Cycles bicycle trip. As we did with Rachel, we will supply educational materials, mentorship, use of the blog, and keep up the relationships with the cup companies. We see these trips with (at least) a two-fold benefit: bicycle touring allows you to meet people, start conversations, and give away cups to a wide demographic of people that would be very hard to find otherwise; and, these trips are a tremendous learning experience for the people taking them.

It’s a cheap, adventurous, and meaningful way to travel. Great for folks finishing up college. If you or someone you know might be interested, contact us for more information!

Sarah Konner: sskonner@gmail.com

Toni Craige: tonicraige@gmail.com

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