My Journey: ActionAid’s 21-Day Strong Women Challenge

Yesterday marked Day 1 of ActionAid’s Strong Women Challenge, a 21 day strength-building fitness challenge to celebrate and raise funds for strong women around the world who contribute to lifting their own communities out of poverty. All proceeds go to ActionAid’s various programs that help to empower and support women to fight for gender equality and leading change to end poverty.  The programs focus on three key areas: economic justice, climate justice and women’s leadership in emergencies.

740-189789-1-jpg

“When strong women are supported to lead, they are able to secure greater access and control over resources, help their communities adapt to climate change and campaign against projects that worsen its impacts, and take charge in protecting women’s rights when humanitarian crises and conflicts hit their communities.” – ActionAid

ActionAid works together with communities, rather than for communities, providing them with the educational tools, leadership skills and resources to create sustainable and long-term change that empowers individuals.

I was inspired to do this challenge because I see it as a fantastic opportunity to campaign for something I am very passionate about: women’s rights and empowerment. No country in the world has reached full gender equality, but some of us have it better than others. I am lucky enough to lead a very privileged life, which is why I’m so passionate about helping those who haven’t been as fortunate in the birthright lottery.

I have long been an advocate for gender equality, but it’s time to put my money (and my body) where my mouth is. Money has the power to have a greater and faster impact and I want to contribute to fighting gender equality in this more tangible sense. Sometimes it helps to have tangible goals so that it feels like you’ve actually contributed to the cause somehow, done something. 

Raising awareness and advocacy is just as important as raising funds, and the pair often go hand-in-hand. In recognition of this, I will try to post as many blogs as possible about gender inequality issues facing women today, in an effort to both further educate myself and others on these issues. Initially I said 21 posts for 21 days, but one day in and I am realising that to do these important (and often highly complex!) issues justice requires a bit more than a days worth of research and writing (and I also have other things I need to do in my life!). But watch this space as I’ll be posting a lot in the coming weeks, including child marriage, domestic violence, media representation and FGM – and hopefully lots more!

I hope that this challenge has the dual effect of contributing to the financial and educational empowerment of disadvantaged women, and also, challenging myself to become physically and mentally stronger so I am prepared to fight for equality even harder.

23379810_1912827628934077_1083259770_o
Check out my (severe lack of) arm muscle!

In terms of the personal aspect of this challenge, I see it as a great way to motivate me to get into a regular fitness routine and program, instead of just watching pilates videos on YouTube :/ I’m not a very disciplined person, so I’m looking forward to the structure this provides, hopefully getting me into the habit of daily goal-setting. Nor am I a highly individually-motivated person, but as soon as others are involved, I am very inspired to act. And I don’t think much else could motivate me more than helping fight for equal rights and social/economic/environmental justice! I am excited at the prospect of becoming physically and mentally stronger and healthier, and hope that I can direct this energy into positive action.

Sometimes the problems of the world seem too big to fix, but change is possible when we work together to improve things bit by bit. Every word of support, every action to raise awareness, and every dollar counts. You can donate to me here – please help me on my journey!

And wish me luck for all of those push ups….

-MANEE xx

Advertisements

The only feminine hygiene product you’ll ever need

The menstrual cup, or as my 11 year old brother calls it, muff plunger.

You’ve heard of it, but you don’t really get it and it sounds kinda gross and you don’t know where to buy them from so you just kinda don’t.

Ever since I bought my own menstrual cup 2.5 years ago, I try to surreptitiously bring up the topic to my female friends (usually unsuspecting coworkers), attempting, and usually failing, to convert them to The Way Of The Cup. So, it’s high time I wrote an elaborate blog post putting forth my case.

I can honestly tell you that the m-cup changed my period/life – and this is a common statement from cup users. It’s more comfortable, more convenient, cheaper, safer, sexier, way better for the environment, and generally makes me feel like I don’t even have my period.

I want as many other menstruating humans as possible to experience the liberation of the m-cup.

Piqued your curiosity yet?

The (F)low-down

What: A (usually) silicone flexible bell-shaped cup that you wear internally, the m-cup collects rather than absorbs your monthly rosy shedding. It’s reusable, designed to last up to 10 years, and holds three times as much as a tampon or pad.

How: Fold like a soft taco, squeeze into your taco, and allow to open to form a seal. There’s many ways to fold it, and it can get surprisingly small. Once you learn the best way to do this for you, it’s rather easy. (See the resources below for handy hints). It may look quite big compared to a tampon, but no worries, vaginas have magical stretchy properties.

When inserted correctly, there shouldn’t be any leakage and you shouldn’t be able to feel it. I repeat: you can’t feel it inside of you. Further, it can be left in for up to 10-12 hours (depending on your flow). That’s a whole waking day without worrying about leakage, or funky smells, or having to change gross tampons for fear of toxic shock syndrome... If that doesn’t make for cruisy crimson surf conditions I don’t know what does.

why_you_should_use_a_menstrual_cup

The Argument For

So why make the switch? Because the benefits of this thing are truly endless. In a randomized controlled trial comparing menstrual cups to tampons, satisfaction for the m-cup was higher, and 91% of women who tried it said they would continue using it and recommend it to others.

Comfort & Convenience

In addition to the fact that you can’t feel it and you can leave it in worry-free all day, you can’t see it and can consequently do pretty much any physical activity whilst wearing it. It is perfect for all sports, especially activities such as hiking or skiing, as it doesn’t need to be frequently changed. For anything involving swimwear, there’s no risk of a little string peeking out. And golly gosh, for travel there is nothing so convenient as your whole menstrual kit being a teeny little cup – not only does it save bag room, but say goodbye to awkwardly trying to locate a convenience store on a Croatian island or Vietnamese countryside when Aunty Flo visits unexpectedly. In fact, say goodbye to emergency tampon-hunts ever again, no matter your geographical location – when the red moon is rising, just whip out your m-cup, bby. Furthermore, some women say that using an m-cup actually reduces cramping.

It will save you cash dollars

The average Australian woman’s annual expenditure on tampons and pads is between AU$120-$200. Menstrual cups cost between AU$40-$60. Whilst an initial outlay, they last for 5-10 years – you do the math, hunni.

Safety and peace of mind

Tbh, you’re pretty safe with disposables. But the m-cup definitely gives me peace of mind in the safety department. Made from medical-grade, hypoallergenic silicone, the m-cup has none of the chemicals contained in other period products. There has been one very rare documented case of TSS associated with the menstrual cup – but it is still considered very safe. As it collects rather than absorbs, your natural moisture is retained and your pH levels remain in balance – goodbye itchy dryness. A benefit of this is that it is safe to wear the cup if you’re spotting, or in anticipation of getting your period.

Less messy sexy times

You can’t have vaginal sex whilst wearing your cup, however, you can still do all other sexies that don’t involve finger-or-penis-or-whatever-else-you-may-be-into-in-vagina. You and your partner can capitalise on that characteristic period-lustfulness and rest assured that there is no extra mess to deal with (if blood during sexy times ain’t really your thang).

Good for you AND the planet

This, for me, is the most important point. I believe we have a moral imperative to do what we can to address climate change, and reducing our carbon footprint and waste is one of the most tangible things we can do.

The average woman throws away between 110 to 135kg of feminine hygiene products in her lifetime, and approximately 9600 tampons are used in the menstrual life of a tampon-user – that’s a helluva lot of landfill. The production and disposal process of tampons and pads is also quite impactful, including the water-intensive production of cotton, harsh chemicals including pesticides & herbicides, chlorine, rayon and dioxins, non-biodegradable plastic wrappings, and transportation costs. Admittedly, almost everything we buy has an environmental cost, but for something as regular and unavoidable as periods, it is worth choosing an option with minimal environmental impact.

It’s also worth considering the relationship between disposable products, capitalism and consumerism. Disposables sustain the need for us to keep buying them, creating endless purchasing for us, and profit for capitalist companies. Reusable products, however, defy the consumerist mantra of buy-buy-buy. So, if you wanna bleed and Fuck The System whilst doing it…

Sounds Awesome – Now what?

Who: Brands include Lunette, Diva Cup (the most popular), JuJu (Australian-made), Moon Cup, MeLuna and Keeper Cup, among many others. Make sure to read the instructions specific to the brand as they all differ slightly! I use Lunette and would strongly recommend it. Lunette comes in pretty colours, is a little shorter in length (better for those with low cervixes), and has a longer stem which can assist with removal. Tip: stems can be trimmed for better fitting.

Where: You can check out this website which includes useful info, cup comparisons, and where you can buy cups for quick Australian delivery: www.menstrualcupsaustraliaonline.com.au. For those in the Wollongong area, you can find Lunette at Martin’s Pharmacy Corrimal, or Flametree Co-Op in Thirroul.

FAQs

It sounds too difficult, other options seem way easier…

There is definitely a learning curve that needs to be overcome when first using the m-cup. But using a tampon wasn’t easy at first either. The initial buying and learning does take a bit of time and effort, and it does take longer to insert/remove, but you get used to it after maybe 2-3 cycles and for a whole day’s worth of bleeding-fanny-freedom IT IS SO WORTH IT.

Does it hurt?

No. Or at least, it shouldn’t, when inserted correctly. Follow the instructions of your specific cup brand, check out some online tips, and if it does continue to hurt, consult a medical professional.

What if I have to change it when in public?

You can avoid this most of the time, as the cup can be left in for up to 12 hours. Definitely wear a pantyliner when you’re first starting in case of leaks. If you do find you need to empty the cup whilst out and about, and can’t find a self-contained bathroom, you can take a bottle of water into the cubicle for rinsing. You can also simply wipe with toilet paper and rinse later when you have more privacy. Wipes specifically designed for cleaning menstrual cups are available for purchase. 

Isn’t it gross and messy?

Yes and no. I personally don’t find it any more ‘gross’ than a tampon, although it is more hands-on. You have to get up close and personal with your vag. You probably definitely will get blood on your hands, especially when you clean it. One way to make it less messy is to empty and clean the cup in the shower – but in fact it’s really much less messy than you’d think! Although slightly confronting at first, after a few times using it, you don’t really care about the supposed ‘ick factor’ (because there are bigger things in life to care about). I actually liked getting more intimate with my period – I see it as a benefit. It’s pretty cool to see how much blood falls out of you each day, and I feel like I understand my body better. It discourages body-shame and encourages body-love and, I would even say, empowerment. If the whole idea of blood and vagina freaks you out… half of me wants to tell you that there’s nothing to be scared of, it’s natural, it’s fundamentally you, get over it because environment, and embrace the opportunity to overcome your ingrained shame and disgust over naturally occurring bodily functions that are crucial to the existence of humankind. And the other part of me says, no worries girl, it’s your choice.

Helpful resources:

The blog post accompanying the above video, including all your need-to-know info about m-cups

10 tips for first time menstrual cup users (by Menstrual Cups Australia)

Troubleshooting & Tips (by JuJu)

A video by Lunette demonstrating the different types of folds for cup insertion

Put A Cup In It – Quiz that suggests your perfect m-cup (plus lots of other useful info)

Virgins and Menstrual Cups – A great resource about choice considerations including sizing, culture, and personal beliefs

Header illustration by Jim Cooke.

Dear Dom: Lisbon, Portugal

IMG_9873
Drawn postcard I bought at Time Out Market in Lisbon. We spent 3 wonderful nights here!

Dear Dom,

It’s my last stop until I finally see you again in Croatia – Lisbon! We’re staying at a really cool, “Urban Garden” hostel, once we finally got here – we missed the train from Lagos! At the hostel there’s free pancake breakfast, cheap dinner and we went on a giant pub crawl with 100 other people, ending up at a club by the beach and getting home at 5am! We’ve met some really nice people, and the Portuguese are so friendly! Lisbon itself is really hip and hilly, with lots of gardens, viewpoints, street art and markets. Yesterday, all I did was eat 2 x 3 course meals, and sleep! What a life! Today I went for a big walk around the city just exploring. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

Lots of love, Manee

Dear Dom: Algarve, Portugal

IMG_9867
Pictured: Lagos coastline, Portugal. We spent 2 nights here. We were supposed to spend 1, but we missed the last train to Lisbon…

Dear Dom,

I’m in Portugal! We just went to Faro, now we’re in Lagos (pictured), which is much more touristy but for good reason! We went kayaking for 1.5 hrs along the coastline in super rough waters, one guy even fell in! Grace was freaking out the whole time, I was doing all the hard work steering at the back haha.

In Faro we went for a bike ride to a natural reserve which looked kinda like a swamp, then sat in a bird watching hut chatting for one hour until we realised the tide had come in and everything was suddenly much prettier! And we saw flamingoes! I also fell asleep on the beach and got a bad, patchy burn on my legs and stomach :/ Oh well! Onwards to Lisbon!

Lots of love, Manee xx

Dear Dom: Seville, Spain

IMG_9861
Grace and I spent 2 nights in sunny Seville!

Dear Dom,

Just spent the last 2 nights in Seville, my last stop on my Spanish tour after Barcelona and Madrid. It was really hot (~35 degrees) and had the vibe of a beach city – relaxed atmosphere, palm trees – only unfortunately no beach! It did have a lovely canal though, which came off the river which used to run through the city when it was an important shipping port many years ago.

We also went to the Islamic Palace Alcazar, where they film the Dorne scenes in GoT. It was like a beautiful, tiled Arabic garden labyrinth with random peacocks everywhere. But mostly in Seville, we just ate tapas 😛

Keen to finally hit the beach at our next stop in Faro, Portugal!

Lots of love, Manee xx

Dear Dom: Barcelona, Spain

IMG_9871
Pictured: Gaudi’s artful architecture at Park Guell. Spent 4 amazing nights here!

Dear Dom,

Hola from Barcelona (with a lisp!)

I met my Australian friend Grace here for our Spain/Portgual trip, and so far I love it! Barcelona is such a lively, artsy, passionate city, I saw 3 couples displaying some intense PDA just on the 1st day! I love the architecture, it’s such a well-designed city with its super-blocks, and of course the brilliant Gaudi! Casa Batllo and Park Guell were both super cool, and not to forget La Sagrada Familia! :O Gobsmackingly impressive.

We also climbed Montserrat for a city break, where they filmed parts of a Bond movie. Reaching the top with its amazing views was so satisfying, but then we had to run down so as not to miss the last cable car and it absolutely destroyed my feet/knees! But we made it down at least haha.

We also hit up some cool bars with Albert (another friend from Uppsala) and Henry (friend of an Uppsala friend on exchange in Barca). Nice to explore a cool city with cool friends 🙂

Lots of love, Manee xx

Dear Dom: Paris, France

IMG_9876

Dear Dom,

Bonjour mon chere! I had some time to kill after Copenhagen/dropping my luggage in the Netherlands and meeting my friend in Spain, so at the last minute I decided to go to France!

I spent 3 nights in Paris, longer than I intended, but it was lovely and my friend Nastasia showed me around. I climbed the Arc de Triomphe, which was slightly significant for me because the last time I was in Paris when I was 8, I refused to climb it due to a fear of heights. But I’m not scared anymore!

I really enjoyed practising my French and I improved a lot during my stay. A Haitian guy in my room spoke no English but we managed okay (just) in French!

It was so nice to also go on a road trip to Bordeaux with Nastasia and my other friend Lewis. Travel is all about the people you’re with and meet.

Lots of love, Manee xx