A few years ago, I wrote an article about being a white Latina. It didn’t go down well. I’ve learned a lot about white privilege since then, and it’s definitely made me see things differently.
Through my erroneous view of how being a white Latina was a disadvantage, I learned just how much easier I had it than lots of other people. Being fair and nice to my long-time Andean maid wasn’t and will never be enough.
When I was young, I was an immigrant in the United States. I hardly spoke any English and my family shrunk from having tons of uncles and cousins around to just me and my mom. I never really noticed how being white made it easier to be an immigrant until I was much older. It was only when I traveled as an expat/digital nomad in my 30s that I came to terms with how my White Latina existence was actually a privilege.
I’m no longer blind to my white privilege and how it’s made things easier for me and my family to move around the world and get ahead. With my work in social media management, I’ve tried to look beyond my own existence and try to be as diverse and inclusive as possible in my language and content output.
Raising kids with awareness
As a mom, it’s my job to impart my children with the right knowledge of how and why their life is privileged. On this front, I can’t say I’m doing a great job. My kids need more first-hand experience with other realities of human existence. So, as a way to teach them about white privilege, I put together some resources to help.
Here are some tools:
Since I am a visual person, I collected infographics and illustrations to get the point across.
Here is a series of illustrations titled, A Guide to White Privilege. It simplifies the most important aspects but I feel like the biggest point is that white privilege is tied to racism in a very close-knit way. On the last slide, the artist includes suggestions on what to do with your white privilege.
Test Your Knowledge
This next video is a TEDx Talk by Lillian Medville who created a card game called Your Privilege is Showing. Her talk is a great starting point for those of us that need to learn about accepting and acknowledging privilege. Not just white privilege but also societal privileges like gender and socio-economic.
I am considering getting a copy of her card game. I’m interested in how it might help both in my work and with my kids’ relationships with all humans.
Orana is a Writer, Artist, Mother and Wife; Peruvian Expat currently living in Kyiv, Ukraine with her husband and children. She works as a writer, designer and social media manager for diverse organizations around the world.
If you ask about the glue that keeps our blended family together, I could reply with classics like ‘unconditional love’, ‘reciprocal respect’ or ‘bonding through fun’. All those are indeed values we hold high in our family of two plus two plus two.
But the special superglue which makes us a family are definitely our family rituals and routines.
In our family, each Thursday is Ice Cream Day. Not just because we all like ice cream, but because on Thursday we celebrate being a family of six again.
Both my kids and my husband’s daughters return from their time with their other parents on Thursday. In the early days of being a blended family, Thursdays would sometimes be filled with tears, silence or just general awkwardness, so we looked for ways to ease the transition. Hence, Ice Cream Day came into being!
Many years later, we feel they don’t really ‘need’ Ice Cream Day anymore, but it still feels appropriate to celebrate being a family on a weekly basis. Besides, who wouldn’t cherish a fixed day to indulge in ice cream!
The Importance of Rituals
Personally, I feel rituals like Ice Cream Day help our kids experience our family home, and by extension, the world, as a predictable, safe place. It gives them something to hold on to.
Especially during the ongoing, turbulent times. Ice Cream Day and other rituals continued to give them a sense of security and comfort. A few months ago, one of our girls casually remarked—halfway through her Thursday Cornetto—that ‘Coronavirus cancelled a lot of things, but not Ice Cream Day!’
Other rituals we have as a family, are less thought through in advance, but became an important aspect of our family identity almost by accident.
When we hear the theme song from Frozen in the kid’s playlist, we need to yell ‘Kasteel!’ at the exact moment in the song when Elsa would build her ice castle in the movie. Just imagine the bewildered looks from bystanders when they hear the six of us in our car yelling ‘Kasteel!’ from the top of our lungs through the open windows, seemingly out of nowhere. We giggle, discuss who’s the winner – the one who was not too early and not too late – and proceed with waiting for our cue to loudly sing ‘Mosterd! Mosterd!’ when Master of Puppets is on. In our family, this song is about mustard. And occasionally about ketchup.
Building Family Security
Our family rituals are a bit like inside jokes. They have a special meaning to us as a family exclusively, and some of them even express our family values in a fun way.
On top of that, they provide the kids with a sense of identity as a member of our family. Especially in a blended family as ours, these casual instances of ‘belonging’ seem truly valuable.
By holding on to our rituals, I also aspire to instill some loving, fun memories in the kids. While slowly but loudly repeating the same mantra of six goodnight phrases when going down the stairs after tucking them in, I secretly hope they will pass this ceremony on to their own kids, one day.
‘Slaapwel. Zoete dromen. Welterusten. Hou van je. Tot morgen. Dikke kus.’
‘Sleep tight. Sweet dreams. Nighty night. Love you. See you tomorrow. Big kiss.’
Each their favorite good night phrase.
Each their daily reminder of security, identity and loving care.
All bundled up in one twenty-second-ritual.
I’m sure you all have some rituals in your families, maybe even without realizing their value. I would love to hear about them, big and small!
This is an original post to World Moms Network by our contributor from BelgiumKatinka Wouters from Belgium. The image used in this post is credited to Kenta Kikuchi from the open shared site, unsplash.com.
If you ask her about her daytime job, Katinka will tell you all about the challenge of studying the fate of radioactive substances in the deep subsurface. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising four kids together with five other parents, each with their own quirks, wishes and (dis)abilities. As parenting and especially co-parenting involves a lot of letting go, she finds herself singing the theme song to Frozen over and over again, even when the kids are not even there...
I consider myself a highly sensitive person. Some might even call me too sensitive. I cry easily when I watch movies and get teary eyed when something moves me. If you would have asked me, I would have said, that I was totally in touch with my feelings
But it took a pandemic to realize that I wasn’t really processing my feelings: I was simply DEALING with them.
Oh, I was GOOD at dealing with my feelings.
I stomped around the house when I was angry, ranted about my grievances, had heart to heart talks ‘at’ my husband and retreated in my bedroom when I was feeling really sad. All of that for a brief moment, than I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and it was business as usual.
Because I was REALLY GOOD at dealing with my feelings, getting over ‘it’ and wiping my single tear away.
There was a lot tugging at those bootstraps, as I occasionally shoved a bag of chips down my throat before breakfast or decided to kill all my extra time, by binging Netflix series. Sometimes I felt an awkward lump in my throat or a heaviness in my step, but I just kept on stepping until I was, once again, OVER IT.
I was doing GREAT.
The pandemic gave me a new perspective on myself. My rollercoaster of a life came to a halt. I was in between jobs and stuck in a house with my family. And it was quiet. No job appointments, no social gatherings, no family outings. I had all the time in the world time to take care of myself. In the absence of all those demanding voices, I became aware of my own silent cry.
“You know that bad experience you had? You haven’t really processed that, you have just moved on. You’re still full of anger, frustration and grief and you are carrying it all around in your body. You smile but the corners of your mouth are getting heavy, like those bootstraps you keep pulling on.”
I started to listen to what my feelings were trying to tell me. I allowed sadness, discomfort and anger to show their faces. Now, it’s becoming okay to sit in the discomfort of negative feelings. I’m allowing them to exist.
I sit with my feelings, I process, I heal and then, when it’s time: I move on.
Let’s be real with each other: what are your healthy and/or unhealthy ways to deal with negative feelings? I would love to hear about it!
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Mirjam Rose of the Netherlands.
Photo credit to Sophie Burden. This photo was actually taken on a walking tour of Delft, Netherlands when World Moms, Mirjam Rose and Jennifer Burden, met with their children in 2018!
Mirjam was born in warm, sunny Surinam, but raised in the cold, rainy Netherlands.
She´s the mom of three rambunctious beauties and has been married for over two decades to the love of her life.
Every day she´s challenged by combining the best and worst of two cultures at home.
She used to be an elementary school teacher but is now a stay at home Mom. In her free time she loves to pick up her photo camera.
Mirjam has had a life long battle with depression and is not afraid to talk about it.
She enjoys being a blogger, an amateur photographer, and loves being creative in many ways.
But most of all she loves live and laughter, even though sometimes she is the joke herself.
You can find Mirjam (sporadically) at her blog Apples and Roses where she blogs about her battle with depression and finding beauty in the simplest of things. You can also find Mirjam on Twitter and Instagram.
The United Nations declared July 30 as International Day of Friendship. I honored the day by taking time to reflect on the benefits of friendship and the universal bond of motherhood:
It was my early days in New York City, having moved from Bali, Indonesia. The move to New York was proving to be a hard one. I left behind a lot in that move: a beautiful garden, house help, a nanny, and year round sunshine. The most important thing that I left—something I didn’t realize the magnitude of until I was in my new environment—was a tribe of friends like none I had ever known.
Aside from being the people who could make me laugh until my sides hurt, or hold intellectual conversations that taught and challenged me, my friends in Bali also showed up for my son and me in ways I hadn’t realized I needed. I rarely had to ask, they just showed up in truly magical ways. We were a crew of people from across the globe, brought together for a shared work environment, quickly bonded together as a chosen family.
I was lucky with that move. In retrospect, I had been lucky in so many of my work related moves, always finding a magnificent network of friends pretty quickly in the transition. My New York move, back to my home country, however, was proving to be more challenging.
For a variety of reasons, I was just struggling to find my tribe, and with day to day life being harder than I had experienced in the past, (no more help!) I was often overwhelmed. I have never been good at knowing how (or when) to ask for help, so I just waded through it thinking that this was the new normal for me. I was overlooking one important branch of my tribe: World Mom’s Network.
I am not sure how it all came about now, my memory has morphed it all like it was some superhero cartoon moment where Jennifer Burden, the founder of WMN, and editor Elizabeth Atalay swooped in wearing capes to help me out. I know I wrote to my editor to say: “I need to step back from World Moms, I am just too overwhelmed with life…” And then there was a text from Jennifer saying: “What can I do?!?!” and in my discomfort with asking for help, I weakly said: “I don’t know! Maybe get my son out of the house so I can get some work done?”
Without hesitation, the two women came and took my son, along with Jennifer’s two daughters, out for pizza and a walk in the VERY cold park, giving me a few hours to work. Their gesture contributed a lot more than that to my life. Up until that moment, these were people whom I had only known through our social media group, World Moms Network, yet here they were, dropping their lives to step in and help me out. They showed up. They encouraged me to ask for help. They reminded me of the importance of reaching out. They modeled the values of the World Moms Network: women showing up to support other women.
This one small example of friendship in action speaks to the benefits of having your tribe. The benefits of friendship are so far reaching that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 30 July as International Day of Friendship, with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.
While the resolution places focus on involving young people, as future leaders, in events that include different cultures and promote international understanding and respect for diversity, the day has become a time for all people to celebrate the friendships in their lives.
The benefits of finding your tribe:
The old adage says that friends are our “chosen family,” or “found family.” They are the people who have intentionally chosen to embrace us for all that we are, sharing our interests and values, and often encouraging us to be our best selves. Our friendship groups can become our tribe, seeing us through the many stages of life. While we can all speak to the value of friends for fun, research also tells us that having friends is an important part of our overall well being.
Friends are good for our mental and physical well-being, even contributing to longevity of life. Having a close circle of friends can decrease certain health risks like diabetes, depression, heart attack, and stroke. A study published by PNAS, found that people with a friendship network live up to 50% longer than those who do not. (1) A small Harvard study also found that friends can help to reduce the hormone cortisol in times of stress. (2) These studies, and many more, show that friendships are an important element in our physical and mental health. While many people may be tempted to withdraw during hard times, research shows that we are likely to weather it better when we have friends by our side.
One reason for the potential longevity factor is that friends can help encourage us as we go through lifestyle changes. For example, friends can help us set and achieve healthy goals, serving as accountability partners. Friends can also alert us when we are getting off track, or when certain behaviors get out of hand (like overworking, or drinking too much). (3) People are more motivated to take on changes and maintain healthy behaviors when they are surrounded by people with similar goals, and have a group encouraging them along the way. Do you want to get fit, or stay on track with healthy eating? Consider forming a friendship walking group, or if that’s not possible, create a texting group with friends who share the same goal; a daily check in can be the thing that helps you stay on track!
Friends can also help us to step outside of our comfort zone, taking on new activities and learning about things we may not have considered without their influence. I often credit my friends with being my resource for courage- I know I never would have gone ziplining or rafting down a rapid river if it weren’t for friends introducing me to new activities. I have a group of friends now with a promise of “Yes,” meaning when one says: “Let’s try…” the others say YES.
Friends can serve as valuable mirrors, helping us to see our strengths and reminding us of who we are. They can encourage us when we are down, and offer reassurance when we doubt our abilities. If we are stepping away from our best selves or outside of our values, our friends can serve as a compass that can bring us back home. When I have struggled with something, having a friend say: “The Erin I know would…” has served as a wonderful reminder of my own strengths, and helps boost my spirits to see myself through the positive lens of a friend.
Finding your tribe:
With all of the benefits of friends being listed, it may be obvious that we should choose our friends wisely, as the old adage says: we are the company we keep! Our friendship circles can significantly influence our own lifestyle choices and personal motivation. Selecting our chosen family for their positive influence (and the contributions we can make to their lives) has the potential to make a big difference in the trajectory of our lives.
As we get older, the demands of life can make it hard to find and nurture our friendships. Despite the effort it takes, the benefits are well worth the effort.
A few things you can do to make new friends include:
Join a fitness center with accountability groups, or join a 30 day fitness challenge to connect with others who are interested in a healthy lifestyle.
Check out events with social groups like meet up or Internations to find people who share your interests or to find people with a similar zest for new adventures!
Join affinity groups within your community, either through a local place of worship or community service group. Finding people committed to their beliefs and service can help you connect to people with shared values.
Connect with World Moms Network contributors and tribe members! Moms from around the world are here to support you and may become your new BFF.
A few things you can do to honor your friendships include:
Send a handwritten card or flowers for a special occasion or just because! Let your friends know they are on your mind and that you value them.
Check in with your friends for no reason. A quick call or even just a voice memo to say “I am thinking of you,” can make a world of difference for someone.
Make a commitment for a once a month friend date, whether that be face to face or online, time together can help strengthen the ties that bind you.
Avoid being a friendship vampire! Whilst we can benefit a great deal from the friendships in our lives, it is important to consider our own contribution and keep things in balance. Ensure that the give and take in your friendship circle is reciprocal in nature.
When I was in Girl Scouts, we used to sing a song: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” As I have gone through my life, the truth in that simple little refrain becomes more and more apparent. Friendship, for all of its benefits, is truly worth celebrating. Happy International Day of Friendship!
This is an original post for World Moms Network by our contributor in Switzerland, Erin Threlfall. The photograph of the author with WMN founder, Jennifer Burden (l) and WMN Senior Editor, Elizabeth Atalay (r), is credited to the author.
Originally from the US, Erin has credited her intense wanderlust and desire to live around the globe to her nomadic childhood. Every two to three years, her father’s work with a large international company provided the opportunity to know a different part of the US (VA, OH, PA, GA, SC, NY) and eventually Europe (Germany and Italy) and Asia (Thailand and Japan). Though her parents and siblings finally settled down in the heartland of America, Erin kept the suitcases in action and has called Ghana, South Korea, Togo, Bali, and now New York home. Single Mom to a fabulous seven-year-old citizen of the world, she is an educator and theatre artist who is fascinated with world cultures and artistic practices. Her big dream is to some day open a school focused on well-being and inquiry based learning to meet the needs of all her learners. In the meantime, Erin and her Little Man Edem, plan to keep investigating theatre and influencing education, one continent at a time. You can read some of her ramblings and perhaps find the common thread by checking our her personal blog, telling all about This Life http://www.erinmthrelfall.com/
Though the World is still reeling from impacts the SARS-CoV-2 has wrought on terra firma since December 2019, today is World Oceans Day. As far as I know, the ocean is one place the virus has NOT wreaked havoc. So, let’s divert focus for a while and celebrate life…teeming below the sea.
If you are lucky enough to live on or near the coast, then you know the power of looking out over the sea. It’s a vista that can be inspiring, breathtaking, powerful, calming and foreboding; sometimes simultaneously. Remarkably, the ocean covers 71% of our planet’s surface and contains 97% of all water on Earth. Furthermore, about 80% of it has yet to be explored, mapped or even seen. Though the ocean is one, continuous body of water, humanity has divided it into 4 geographic regions: Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Arctic; 5 regions if you also include the newly designated Southern Ocean, around Antarctica (facts courtesy of National Geographic). Maybe you already knew all of this. That’s awesome.
But did you also know that today, June 8, is the United Nations designated World Oceans Day?
The proposal to mark June 8 to celebrate the ocean came from the Canadian delegation, at the 1992 Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It didn’t pass an official resolution at the UN General Assembly until 2008. So, because June 8, 2021 is both the official relaunch of World Moms Network and UN World Oceans Day, I dedicate this post to both causes.
The theme for UN World Oceans Day 2021 is The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods. Because this is a post for World Moms Network, I’ll talk about how the ocean impacts my own family’s life.
Let me start by saying that the ocean has been a huge part of my life from inception.
I was born into a family of ocean lovers. My father served as a Navy Salvage Diver and my mother is an ocean devotee. As a child, I was surrounded by images, artifacts and elements of the sea. We spent lots of time at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, onboard boats and summering at the shore. In fact, when I think about it, I can hardly recall a family vacation that didn’t somehow involve being on, in or near the ocean. We spent hours at maritime museums, aquaria and gazing at painted seascapes in galleries near and far.
My college major had little to do with the ocean but one of the most impactful courses I took was Coral Reef Ecology. My college was located in Memphis, Tennessee. The lab portion of the course, however, was in The Bahamas. For one week in May, we lived at a science research station on the tiny island of San Salvador. We spent our mornings snorkeling and logging the biology of the island; and we spent our afternoons studying the geology of it. The sea enchanted me with the vibrant and complex societies just below its surface. I wanted to go deeper and learn more.
I knew I needed to get SCUBA certified.
In my early 20s, when I was living and working in Asia, I determined to get my diving certification so I could explore more of the world below the waves. Over the next decade, the journey took me to dive sites around Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Mexico and the Caribbean. Whenever there was time—and a nearby dive shop—I went.
When I met my husband in 2000, I encouraged him also to get PADI certified, so we could explore together. And we did. Early in our relationship, we spent a few days on a live-aboard dive boat in Thailand, in search of the ever elusive Whale Shark; we still haven’t spotted one. On our honeymoon, we did a wreck dive. Together we have seen reef sharks, barracuda, sail fish, and all kinds of rays. We have encountered pods of sea turtles, eels and octopus and infinite numbers of fish. Diving together was pure joy.
Then came kids.
In the past 15 years, we have dived just a handful of times; waiting for that day when maybe we could get our kids interested in diving too.
That day has arrived. This is the year, at 12 and 15, when our kids finally are ready to take on the adventure with us.
Though we all were born on one side of the Atlantic—the East Coast of the United States—we now live on the other side, the West Coast of Portugal. Back in northern New England, unless you’re diving for a lobster dinner, SCUBA diving isn’t a terribly popular past time. It’s COLD! And though the weather in Portugal is temperate and sunny year-round, the Atlantic here is even COLDER!
Diving in frigid, 17C/62F degree water with 7mm thick wetsuits, hoods and booties may not seem like ideal conditions but in Portugal, diving is a big deal. In fact, pretty much anything to do with the ocean is a big deal: surfing, kite surfing, wind surfing, boogie boarding, fishing, spear fishing, sport fishing, eating fish and, of course, sailing. The Portugese are a seafaring people. This is the home of The Discoverers after all.
In the middle of a pandemic, faced with social distance requirements, excessive screen time and lockdowns, what better place to escape than the ocean?
And that is what we did. We invested in getting our kids their SCUBA certifications; not because we plan to go diving every weekend nor even every vacation vacation. As World Moms, we’re all on a path to raise global citizens and part of that journey requires raising awareness at all levels. Sure, diving is a luxury—just like skiing or any sport that requires extensive gear—but when you experience an environment, when you truly spend time getting to know its surroundings and inhabitants, you become a citizen conservationist.
So today is World Oceans Day and to honor it, I’m happy to report that this past weekend, both of my kids did their first open water dive. When I descended 11m/33ft into the chilly waters off the coast of Sesimbra, Portugal and saw my kids kneeling on the sandy bottom, it was something akin to magic. I never got the chance to dive with my own father—the person who first planted the love of the sea deep within me—but by witnessing it planted in my own children, I know that I am passing on that legacy. I know that I am raising stewards of the sea.
This is an original post to World Moms Network from our Managing Editor, Kyla P’an, who resides in Cascais, Portugal. All photos in this post are attributed to the author.
Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go
Universally, women and girls menstruate. The age may vary for every young girl, but the experience can be traumatic, sometimes even deadly.
I recently came upon two news items that shocked and saddened me. The first story was of an 11-year-old girl from the UK who had her period while in school. When she asked to be excused to go to the bathroom because her period had soaked through her clothes, she was refused by two staff members on two separate occasions.
The young girl was trying to avoid being singled out by the rest of her class, possibly the whole school. Instead of being supported by the staff, she was dismissed, which traumatized her from going back to school. Since those incidents, the girl has been given a bathroom pass, but the damage had been done. According to a study done by Plan International UK back in 2017, 49% of girls and young women aged 14-21 have missed at least one day of school as a result of their period. In addition to being humiliated for having a period and pain as a result of it, the cost of buying sanitary products may be prohibitive. Period poverty in the UK affects about 10% of girls who can’t afford them and 12% find ways to create makeshift sanitary wear just to have something. There have been initiatives launched like the Red Box Project based in Bristol, where period products are given for free, but more has to be done to eliminate the discrimination felt by girls and women who are affected.
The second story was about 21-year old Parbati Borgati from Nepal who was staying in a menstrual hut during her period and died of suffocation from smoke inhalation. Borgati who had been staying in this abandoned hut decided to keep warm one cold night by burning wood and clothing and tragically died in her sleep. Menstrual huts are not unusual for women in some parts of Nepal, India, and Africa and the concept of these huts comes from years of tradition and in some cases, out of religion.
The tradition of “chhaupadi” In Nepal is part of a long-standing belief stemming from Hinduism that during a woman’s menstrual cycle, she is deemed unclean. As part of this tradition, women are banned from being in the kitchen, using kitchen utensils, sharing meals, going to the temple or being with their families, and are segregated to huts made from mud or stone. The huts are no bigger than closets and these women brave the elements and pests on their own.
In recent years, women’s rights activists have fought to end “chhaupadi”. Even the government of Nepal has outlawed menstrual huts since 2005. They have gone so far as to criminalize it this past August for those who continue to force women to use them, but unfortunately in some western villages of Nepal, these actions have not been as successful. While tradition can be blamed for the continuity of their use, guilt plays a huge part in it as well. In areas where menstrual huts have been used by women for generations, it is difficult for them to turn their backs on what’s been viewed as part of their way of life.
One of the ways that “chhaupadi” is being discouraged is through cash incentives. Recently, a rural governor has offered to give $5,000 rupees to any woman who rejects using menstrual sheds. While it seems like a great solution, it’s not sustainable since so many still use these sheds out of tradition and fear of being ostracized by their families for not following this custom.
My experience with menstruation did not result in tragedy, but it was still traumatizing for a thirteen-year-old girl. I was on a family vacation when I got my period while playing outdoors with my cousins. I felt some discharge on my underwear and thought I had soiled myself. I ran to the bathroom and was gripped with fear when I saw blood on my underwear, unaware of what was happening to me. It wasn’t until my aunt knocked on the bathroom door to see if I was okay that I told her about the blood. It was then that I was educated about “periods” and what I should do next and in the future.
Why was I told about “periods” by my aunt, as opposed to my mother? As someone whose mother came from the Philippines, the word “period” was never discussed in her household, so I was never educated about it by my mother. This was a silent “problem” and no one was allowed to talk about it to anyone, especially men. Gender roles play a big part in a lot of Filipino families, and “periods” are seen as female problems. While there have been strides over the years to ensure that young women in rural parts of the Philippines are educated about menstruation as those living in urban areas, the perception of having a “period” is still seen as a woman’s problem.
In light of last year’s Academy Awards event in the US where the award for Best Foreign Film was given to a documentary short made in India titled, “Period. End of a Sentence.”, there has been a great amount of awareness brought towards the issue of menstruation. Created by Rayka Zehtabchi, the film showed how menstruation is still a taboo subject in rural parts of India and that even the word “period” evokes shame for girls and ignorance for boys. Education about menstruation plays a huge part in breaking the taboo it has affected generations of girls and boys. What struck me was how the girls reacted towards the word as opposed to the boys. The girls were painfully self-conscious saying the word, while the boys were quite unaffected by the issue, even worse, had no idea what the word “period” meant.
The film follows some women in rural Hapur district, just outside of Delhi, India, and exposes the contradicting points of view regarding menstruation between genders and as seen by older generations, but there were positive results as well. Discussing the subject of menstruation and the necessity of safe menstrual products like pads was crucial for both genders. Another positive outcome of the film was creating job opportunities for these women so they could feel empowered. That opportunity would come from an unlikely source, a man named Arunachalam Murugunantham from Tamil Nadu.
When Muruganantham found out that his wife was using newspapers or filthy rags for her period, he decided to create sanitary pads that were safe and could be purchased at a low cost. Muruganantham created a pad machine that made sanitary pads using cellulose fibers from pine wood pulp, which was great for absorption and retaining the pad’s shape. Traditionally, men have never been involved with anything related to menstruation, especially in rural parts of India, so it’s no surprise that Muruganantham’s wife, Shanti, was not supportive of his invention in the beginning.
Muruganantham’s goal of educating young women about safe sanitary pads through his pad machine and the rise of a micro-economy from selling them in local stores at a low cost has given these women the confidence to provide for their families. It was amazing to see the transformation of these women from being shy and silent about the topic of “periods” to feeling empowered and ready to provide for themselves and their communities as a result of Muruganantham’s invention.
The success of “Period. End of Sentence.” is an indication that more has to be done to enlighten parts of the world about menstruation. In today’s world where women from Western countries can speak freely about reproductive health, it’s heartbreaking to see other women that are still suppressed either by tradition or guilt to speak out about issues that harm them or lose their lives, just like the women who died in the menstrual huts. It is my hope that this film continues to break gender inequity, not just in India but in other parts of the world where women are banished just because they have their period. No woman deserves to feel invisible or worse, lose their life due to a lack of education, especially about their bodies.
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Tes Silverman was born in Manila, Philippines and has been a New Yorker for over 30 years. Moving from the Philippines to New York opened the doors to the possibility of a life of writing and travel. Before starting a family, she traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, and France, all the while writing about the people she met through her adventures. After starting a family, she became a freelance writer for publications such as Newsday’s Parents & Children and various local newspapers. Fifteen years ago, she created her blog, The Pinay Perspective. PinayPerspective.com is designed to provide women of all ages and nationalities the space to discuss the similarities and differences on how we view life and the world around us. As a result of her blog, she has written for BlogHer.com and has been invited to attend and blog about the Social Good Summit and Mom+Social Good. In addition, she is a World Voice Editor for World Moms Network and was Managing Editor for a local grass roots activism group, ATLI(Action Together Long Island). Currently residing in Virginia Beach, VA with her husband, fourteen year-old Morkie and a three year old Lab Mix, she continues to write stories of women and children who make an impact in their communities and provide them a place to vocalize their passions.