Why? Because I also menstruate.
I have no idea I will become a peer educator/menstrual educator at this moment in my life. I thought I just want to share what I have been through and really want women and girls to have choices more than plastic sanitary pads that kindda take over the world and becoming billion dollars industry. I get allergic to that first of all and my mom thinks “Well, it is normal.” To me “Well, it is not!”…not in many ways. I want to treat my girl right!
Turns out that they didn’t reveal the ingredients that I was desperate to see, so if I want to change, I can only choose to buy the more expensive one, you know the type of products that have the fancy ad on TV for people to look at on every commercial break after 50 episodes of TV-drama every evening and you see the beautiful ladies enjoy walking wearing the plastic pads. I have to be there with the pain for around 5 days as bloody days and the rest I can heal until the war starts again. Then Voila! I found Washable Pads!!! and Menstrual Cups!!! [not in Cambodia….] They introduce me to this life-changing experience when I went for sustainable learning in Thailand.
When I talked about Washable Pad, I want us to look at it as a bridge or like the elephant story.
Women that use only plastic sanitary pads see it as a new experience or back to old-time when you used a piece of cloth and hang it dried and reused them again, women who get allergies like me will see it as a pain release, women who care about the environment will see it as a replaceable choice for her to advance her minimal life, as the doctor will question about its hygiene, and acknowledge that there will be no direct chemical on the skin, women in the provinces might see it as money-saving and reduce burning and secret place to bury the plastic one, NGOs will see it as another added to the Emergency kit, other youth organizations might see this as SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) or solutions within SDGs (The Sustainable Development Goals) like gender, education, environment, employment, decent work, responsible consumption and a way to inspire young people to initiate their own social impact or a way to talk. So far so good, I also find myself testing campaigns, advocate and being active participants in talking about SRHR awareness in the community especially with young people as well.
Now how I view washable pads and menstrual cups as a way to bridge them to curiosity and the need to learn about their body part and their own health and well-being. Girls in the class that I teach might see me as a random stranger who similar to teachers talk about our body parts, carry those washable pads and menstrual cups, and try to explain to them the myths surrounding how hymen truly look like and connect it to the virginity myths.
If the situation is too awkward, let’s us all start with sewing the washable pads together using our hands to cut and sew, the community women asked me whether I am not afraid that the Chinese will be mad at me? (because I steal their customers as now their customers know how to save money using washable pads and stop buying the plastic one.)
Through those experiences, I myself learned to ask them a basic question to provoke their curiosity like whether they know how many holes a woman has?
And the answer comes after awkwardness or giggling. To heal the situation, I might ask them whether they notice what is missing from the picture basically and let them guess after all the talk is done. Can you see the element that is missing from the left picture? (I zoom out the picture…I am trying to adapt to the Cambodian context which shouldn’t make such a picture too direct and close people from open up.)
With all the talking above is the experience from me and Monika (my co-peer educator) facilitating, but how to really help those who want to become peer educators or facilitators able to deliver it in their own style and design?
I could see that the confidence to deliver also need to come from the revolution and the inner boldness of the educators, not just the technique and science. We need to deliver the life lesson. Menstruation is not a textbook story, and we know that the menstrual blood is life itself.
It is funny that we can see the reproduction of the plants' paper sticks on the wall in the classroom that we facilitate, but not human reproductive, maybe we are shy to see ours all the time?
I have learned that the more educators can share their personal experiences and highlight the empowerment from those stories, the more confident they get to lead the class. It is hard that you hold on to society's mindset about being a virgin defines your value as a woman and virginity is a gift to your first love, and go on to teach the class. I found this saying might be naughty and discouraging to some people, but a truth to tell. Nevertheless, women that feel trap by the society standard and wanting to practice using her freedom will find the courage to talk about anything despite her situation with the young girls. This surface topic sounds like Menstruation seems to always find its way to pregnancy, sexuality, relationship, consent, contraceptive methods, family planning, norms and taboo, and the list goes on. Lots of discomfort and sensitivity comes from these, it is because of the story behind the associated words, the deep below root causes of the tip of the iceberg that we see.
I met a case where a woman gets up to already done sterilization (the contraceptive method by blocking the tubes so the eggs and sperms) because her oldest sister gives the consent to the doctor to do so, and the doctor does so to her, to me, this is no informed consent and totally wrong to take away her choice to whether ties her uterus tubes or not. And another similar case where I asked her whether she wants to get pregnant and she keeps saying her husband wants a kid and I asked her three times for her to understand that it is about her decision and she finally said: “No, I don’t want a kid right now.” The senior member and the husband in the family as the ruler is still strong in the Cambodian culture.
Now it comes to me trying to find a safe space and keep a healthy boundary to deliver SRHR, with the experience, I know that the younger generation will be in a better position to do the work. For example, a young girl, 16 years old in a province that advocates for SRHR in her community with the support of the NGO there. To me, this is a picture of how it should be like. For us right now we facilitate the class of 2 groups, 8 students to incorporate the SRHR content into the USB drive that can display on the monitor without internet and support them to finish and present the work to their community, also finding a way to sustain this initiative that will benefit others after. If we can relax the authorities, support passionate young advocates truly not just to tick the box [tokenism], let them explore their interest and passion within the field, and make sure they do not need to worry about sustaining themselves while exploring, let them be the spotlight of how the story of SRHR will change in this society, just simply allow our generation to fly their own wings and exercise their own freedom that is our moral role for the next generation.
By Votey - Founder of Green Lady Cambodia