Sunday, September 6, 2015

Menstruation is something that unites as much as half of the human population, and yet the menstrual experience can be radically different for different people depending on where they live.  Girls growing up in the US are socialized to view menstruation as a nuisance that must be endured with as much discretion as possible, and thanks to the accessibility of disposable, easily-concealed products, this is fairly easy to do.  Since pads and tampons became readily available in the 1920’s and 30’s, it’s been possible for girls and women to remain active in sports, school and the work force without anyone ever knowing that they are menstruating (Scharpf & Kauder Nalebuff, 2011)

For women in other regions, however, the experience of menstruation is much different.  In areas in Africa, as many as half of all school-aged girls are unable to attend multiple days of school each month while they bleed because of insufficient access to sanitary products, and 24 percent of women cannot attend up to 45 days of work per year because of their periods (Scharpf & Kauder Nalebuff, 2011).  As many as 48 percent of girls in Iran believe that their period is a disease and that if they shower or bathe while they menstruate they will be cursed and lose their fertility, resulting in humiliation and isolation.  In Asian regions, women are traditionally not allowed to be employed in professions that involve cooking or working with food, like chefs or grocers, because it is believed that if a woman touches food while she is menstruating, the food becomes contaminated.  In the worst situations, women are forced to use rags, newspaper, leaves, straw, ash, or mud while on their periods to absorb the blood (Goldberg, 2015).

Cultural stigmas are usually the reason why so many girls and women must suffer through their periods each month, and attitudes in India illustrate this occurrence.  In India, menstruating women and girls are considered untouchables and menstruation is seen as filthy and unclean.  Only 7 percent of Indian women in urban areas, and 2 percent of women in rural areas, use disposable sanitary pads; for the rest, cloth rags are still the product used most often for absorbing blood.  Because all of the laundering is conducted at communal washing areas, and because of the shame associated with menstruation, many women and girls are afraid to wash out and dry their blood-soaked rags in public areas.  This leads many women to hide away their rags in their homes.  Bacteria accumulates on the damp, unwashed rags, which women continue to reuse each month, resulting in serious, wide-spread health problems. Across India, approximately 70 percent of all reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene, and maternal mortality death is also indirectly associated with poor menstrual hygiene (Avett, 2015)

Enter Menstrual Man, a 2013 documentary directed by Amit Virmani about India’s menstruation situation.  The film tells the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a self-proclaimed uneducated, primary school drop-out, who’s decade-long journey began with concern for the way in which his wife and sisters were handling their menstrual rags.  Muruganantham grew up with all of the taboos associated with menstruation in rural India, but he knew that reusing rags was dangerous for women’s health.  So he set out to establish a way to quickly make a large amount of inexpensive, safe, hygienic rags in what he referred to as a “low-cost, sanitary pad movement.”  His efforts caused his rural, conservative, community to shun him, labeling him as a pervert and an outcast.  Eventually he also lost the support of his wife and family.  But Muruganantham was not deterred from his vision.  While his methods were, at times, unorthodox (at one point he began collecting used prototypes of his pads from University women in order to further study the effectiveness of his pads and the needs of the women), he was eventually able to create a very simple, effective, sustainable machine that could produce large amounts of absorbent menstrual padding. 

Muruganantham has since installed 643 machines in 23 of India’s 29 states (Avett, 2015).  The machines are basic in construction making them sustainable and easy to construct and repair, and the facilities that house the machines can be managed with little training or oversight.  He employs at least 10 local women to operate each machine, providing thousands of women with work opportunities in areas where jobs for women are scarce.  Muruganantham is now considered a successful social entrepreneur in India, and he has had many offers from corporations to sell his invention for commercial use.  Despite these offers, he refuses to commercialize, and continues to provide machines to groups of rural Indian women.  His commitment to social justice and aid has led many to hail him as a visionary.

Muruganantham continues to expand his invention and he frequently lectures about menstrual health and the dangers of social stigma surrounding menstruation.  Ultimately, Muruganantham’s innovation is benefiting tens of thousands of girls and women by generating jobs, creating sanitary products, offering a safe place to get these products, and providing peace of mind and empowerment to women all over India.

If you’re interested in watching Menstrual Man, go to the documentary’s website:
Avett, S. (2015, September 3). Meet Menstrual Man, Your New Hero. Retrieved from Bust:

Goldberg, E. (2015, July 14). All The Inconceivable Ways Women Deal With Their Periods Worldwide... And How To Help. Retrieved from The Huffington Post:

Scharpf, E., & Kauder Nalebuff, R. (2011, November 17). When a Period Ends More Than a Sentence. Retrieved from Huffpost Healthy Living:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Studies Show Environmental Factors Causing Early Puberty in Girls 

Last year, Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air released a segment on the age of puberty occurring in girls.  Gross interviewed the authors of The New Puberty, Dr. Julianna Deardorff and Dr. Louise Greenspan, who conducted a long-term study on puberty, following 444 girls aged six to eight years old from the San Francisco Bay area.  Their study found that, while it was once accepted that age eight was the earliest a girl would begin experiencing puberty, the age for puberty is now decreasing, dipping more and more frequently into the six and seven years-old range.  However, just because girls are approaching this turbulent time earlier in life does not mean that they are ready for it emotionally.  “It has been established that girls are more likely to have symptoms of anxiety, higher levels of depression, initiate sex and sexual behaviors earlier,” Dr. Deardorff told Fresh Air.  Mature bodies paired with immature minds and emotions, it seems, may result in a higher possibility of eating disorders, self-harm, and even early pregnancy.

So, why are these alarming changes occurring in the first place?  The short answer is the environment.  “What I find concerning is that puberty is a process that’s very sensitive to the environment and we can move the timing of puberty, unintentionally, vis-a-vis environmental exposures” Dr. Deardorff said.  There are apparently many environmental factors that can have an impact on when puberty begins, not the least of these factors being the antibiotics fed to animals used to produce meat and dairy products.  Antibiotics are given to animals to treat infection and prevent disease, but they also speed up the pubertal development process, acting something like steroids or growth hormones, and causing the livestock to grow larger and mature at an accelerated rate.  Farmers generally want their livestock to be bulky and fat, so these drugs are fed to the animals in abundance under the guise of being preventative and safe.  The consequences of these antibiotics do not stop with the livestock that directly ingest them.  When children consume meat products that have been exposed to these antibiotics, they are being affected by the drugs in the same ways that the cattle are, which results in puberty beginning earlier.  

Environmental pollutants also have a huge impact on hormone development, especially chemicals found in plastics, among them Bisphenol A.  BPA is a synthetic chemical thought to mimic the naturally-occurring chemical estrogen.  Greenspan told Gross on Fresh Air, “There [are] several chemicals that may mimic estrogen in the body… the culprit is called Bisphenol A, or BPA.  BPA was actually invented as a medical estrogen, it’s a weak estrogen, and it ended up becoming ubiquitous in plastics… it’s also on paper receipts and in other compounds.  The concern is that it may leech out of those and into our bodies and may act like an estrogen.”  When estrogen levels reach a certain point in the body, it signals to the body that maturity has been reached and puberty may begin.  Leeching of BPA from plastic food containers, toys, bedding, and many other synthetic fibers and products into the body may cause the body to respond to this synthetic form of estrogen at an earlier age, depending on the amount of exposure.

In reality, the extent of the effects of toxic chemical exposures on girls entering puberty is more far-reaching than we can comprehend at this point, especially when considering the myriad of toxins girls are exposed to every day.  “Our study has not yet demonstrated that this one single [factor] is causing early puberty… One of the problems with deciding which chemical is that there’s no one smoking gun.  We live in a toxic milieu of many, many chemicals and it’s actually becoming impossible to isolate one single [toxin]…” Greenspan said.  Despite all this, there are still many ways to be proactive when it comes to limiting girls’ exposures to toxins.  Buying plastic products made without BPA is easier than ever before, especially now that the chemical is being phased out of many consumer products.  BPA-free labels can now be found on most plastic goods.  Taking an even more positive step forward could involve using fewer plastic products in general, opting instead for products that possess a less toxic chemical make-up such as glass, stainless steel, or wood.  Purchasing hormone-free and antibiotic-free animal products and organic produce would be optimal for avoiding estrogen mimicker exposure via food, and using natural, fragrance-free household cleaners would also eliminate exposure to dangerous toxins.  For those wanting to address these issues at the source, demanding cleaner goods from manufacturers and putting pressure on corporations and governing bodies to regulate toxins can very possibly result in safer food and products for everyone.

Puberty is already a turbulent time for most girls, and it is becoming more and more common for girls to have to navigate these changes at a much younger age.  It is not right to ask of seven year olds what, fifty years ago, was being asked of fourteen year olds.  This kind of acceleration into adulthood can result in depression, anxiety, and the emergence of premature sexuality.  Cleaning up our food and products, decreasing the amount of regular exposure to toxic chemicals, and reestablishing healthier, less-toxic lifestyles can help alleviate this problem for future generations. Because, ultimately, we owe it to our girls to create healthy environments where they can grow up how they need to, when they need to.

National Public Radio. (2014, Dec 2). How Girls Are Developing Earlier In An Age Of 'New Puberty'. Retrieved from

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tech-Loving Girls From North Africa and the Middle East Descend on the U.S.

"The exchange program aims to empower teen girls to break down cultural barriers and study subjects they love."
                                                                                                           by David McNair via Takepart

"Hosted by the U.S. State Department and Legacy International, the young girls—who range between 15 to 17 years of age and hail from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Yemen, and Tunisia—are currently working side by side with American teens and leaders in the tech industry at the fourth annual TechGirls exchange program in Washington, D.C., and at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia."

Jimmy Carter Dedicating The Rest Of His Life Fighting For Women’s Rights

"Former US President Jimmy Carter should be enjoying retirement right about now. But instead, the 90 year old (yep, NINETY!!) has decided is not done in leadership just yet. In an interview with CNN, he revealed that for the rest of his life, he is making it his mission to fight against the injustices toward women and girls worldwide."

“He’s doing it for the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, for those who have become ISIS militants’ sex slaves and for girls everywhere who can’t go to school. He’s doing it for the estimated 160 million babies aborted or killed at birth in Asia in recent decades because they were not boys. He’s doing it for American college co-eds and women in the military who suffer rape and see the men responsible walk free,” writes Greg Botelho at CNN.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Can These Panties Disrupt the $15 Billion Feminine Hygiene Market?

Now this is an intriguing concept. As technology continues to develop, so do the products that serve our most basic needs (deodorant, birth control, feminine hygiene). I was initially posting this to share the actual product as technology and hoping it wasn't too expensive to try...just to see if it actually works and could be the simpler version of cloth diapering. But I see that this product is associated with an initiative to provide assistance (financial, training, products) to Ugandan women. Ideally, this makes the product even better. Unfortunately (or not), I'm always suspicious when I see products that seem to potentially capitalize on ________ (fill in the blank with a social justice issue). However, I haven't given them a fair shake yet so will follow up with more research and/or encourage reviews of their products! They also serve as an example of the possibilities for women-run industries, ethical and mutually beneficial cross-global collaborations, and practical ingenuity. Apparently, it's caught on because they are awaiting a shipment which is almost sold out...might have to wait awhile for this one. 

Can These Panties Disrupt the $15 Billion Feminine Hygiene Market? by Emma Johnson via Forbes

No Tampon? No Problem. Thinx Underwear Is Made For Your Period Days 
by Alice Lawton via Bust

Thinx Period Panties "
We see a world where no woman is held back by her body. We will work proudly and tirelessly until every single girl has an equal opportunity for the brighter future she deserves. By reimagining feminine hygiene products to provide support, comfort, confidence, and peace of mind, we aim to eliminate shame, empowering women and girls around the world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Oh the Places We Go! Girls Studies Project Samples

Throughout this six-week Summer 2015 semester, I was extraordinarily impressed by the engagement and classroom community we created in such a short time. The commitment of the students was evident from the first week through the final assignment. I intentionally left the final project somewhat open-ended in terms of approach to allow for creativity, particularly because we read about the variety of approaches of girls' activism and cover such a broad range of issues in the course.

Certain topics resonate with students differently so I permit the opportunity to tap into those interests and moments while still requiring that they effectively demonstrate an understanding of the course texts and nuances of each issue from context to context, especially where location, identity, and intersectionality are concerned.

As a celebration of our semester, I am sharing one example (for now) of an outcome from the final project assignment. Elizabeth chose to create a zine for girls dealing with the often hush-hush topic of menstruation and puberty.

I will share more samples as I receive student permission (with the option for them to remain anonymous). When submitted for credit, the creative approaches are accompanied by a written component to cover a range of criteria that connects the project to the course. They may also choose a more traditional approach and complete a research paper. I will only include snippets of written components but want to share some of what UCF students create when permitted to unleash their imaginations and focus their knowledge through multiple disciplines.

click on link to make it larger

"As a teenager, I must have read or watched a dozen guides devoted to making it through puberty. There were books on what to do during your period; there were films in school aboutwhat happens to the body during puberty; there were brochures on sexual health and abstinence.Yet, even with all of these resources, I never really felt equipped for what was happening, and I realize now that the reason for this was because these sources were giving me a sterile, analytical,one-sided view of puberty and menstruation as opposed to a comprehensive, holistic explanation of my body and my health."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


It astonished me that in 2015 a youth basketball team can be disqualified because they have a female player yet this is the case for the Virginia team,the Charlottesville Cavaliers. Ten year-old Kymora is the point guard for the Cavs and loves basketball and her team. Her mother had no idea she would not be allowed to play, seeing as she had already been in "hundreds of tournaments for the Cavaliers, including two National Travel Basketball Association (NTBA) tournaments". Kymora's head coach played her during the tournament, despite the rules specifiically banning her, and the team was subsequently disqualified. The team has stood by Kymora, supporting her by wearing uniforms. 

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Honor Diaries Documentary

Warning: This is an intense video involving painful and traumatic issues.

Imagine being burned with acid, beaten, and murdered due to honor. I couldn’t wrap my head around this idea of death due to honor till I saw the movie Honor Diaries. It introduces us to nine activists fighting for the equality for women in the Middle East. One of my favorite activists from the movie Jasvinder Sanghera is on a new mission to bring awareness of honor killings in America. She needs everyone to sign the Petition to make July 14th a National Day of Memory for Women and Girls Killed in the Name of Honor.

Here are some of the facts from Honor Diaries website;
Contrary to popular belief, honor violence does not just happen overseas. In the last several years alone we have seen honor killings in the United States make the news and shock the nation. According to a report by Phyllis Chesler, there are 33 known victims that have been murdered for honor in North America, including:

  • In St. Louis, Missouri, 16-year-old  Palestina "Tina" Isa was murdered by her Palestinian father with the aid of his wife. Her parents were dissatisfied with her "westernized" lifestyle.
  • Amina and Sarah Said, two teenage sisters from Texas were killed, allegedly by their Egyptian father, who is still at large.
  • In Arizona, Noor Almaleki, age 20, was killed by her father, an Iraqi immigrant, because she had refused an arranged marriage.
  • Waheed Allah Mohammad stabbed his 19-year-old sister, Fauzia, outside of their home in New York because he felt she wore immodest clothing and behaved too “Western”.
It is important to learn more about the cultural contexts and implications of these killings but this is one perspective.

Join the army Sign the Petition

Sexuality DIscovered through "Diary of a Teenage Girl"

The new Marielle Heller directed film, "Diary of a Teenage Girl," is an intriguing representation of one young woman's experience as she explores her sexuality and doesn't sugar-coat the process like many Hollywood movies do. In an interview featured in The Guardian, Heller says "We need to see women’s stories reflected in ways that feel genuine and honest,” she says. “I think [mainstream cinema] does such a disservice to women by trivializing them and their emotions.” 

I look forward to the film (starring Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, and Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd) and hope to see a "real," or least semi-authentic portrayal of what it's like to be a teenage girl going through the confusing, exciting, and scary time that is puberty and discovery. 

Click here for The Guardian interview. 

Chick Car

Just last week as I was outside of my friend’s apartment to pick him up; I watched as he looked around for my vehicle. I had text him that I was outside and he quickly responded.


I was the only vehicle parked in front of his apartment building so was very confused by his own confusing.

I replied “The white SUV with black tints”.

As he entered the vehicle he quickly said; “Well this isn’t your average chick car”.
I was appalled by his statement. Taken back as I had never associated any vehicle with gender and didn’t understand what the big commotion was about. Yes I drive an eight passenger Dodge SUV. What is the big deal?

The comments continued as my driving was also analyzed.
“Wow Jazz you don’t drive like a girl”.
“You can actually park this thing”?
“You don’t have both hands on the wheel? That’s a first.”

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code is an amazing program created for girls to be able to immerse themselves in the male-dominated field of computer science. According to the website, 90% of girls who attended the program went on to major or minor in Computer Science or related field, 77% of girls changed their path because of Girls Who Code, and 92% of participants taught someone else to code. At and age where girls are afraid to enter a field they have not previously been encouraged to participate in, this program helps them to gain confidence by teaching them that they can enter the field and succeed. Here's a wonderful video showcasing the difference this program made in the lives of its participants:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The newest Always #likeagirl video, "Unstoppable", was released earlier this month. It features young girls similar to those in the "Like a Girl" video that made headlines after airing during the Superbowl. In the video, director Lauren Greenfield (of Queen of Versailles fame) asks the girls "Have you ever been told, 'because you're a girl', that you should not do something?" The girls give various answers, and are then told to write those things on a box and destroy it.

Though some may argue that this campaign is purely for making headlines, and that Procter and Gamble are simply profiting off of pulling on people's heartstrings, it is, nonetheless, an emotional video. 

Watch the video and leave your thoughts in the comments! 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"And between my whole family, we are going to take care of her baby, so she can keep studying... Because nothing that happened to her was her fault."

According to the World Health Organization, "The proportion of births that take place during adolescence is about 2% in China, 18% in Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 50% in sub-Saharan Africa". Such was the case with an eleven year old Paraguayan girl who was raped, and subsequently impregnated by her abusive stepfather. The young girl's mother began reporting the sexual abuse in 2013, but the case was not looked into by authorities until April 2015, when the girl was already pregnant. Because of Paraguay's strict abortion laws, the eleven year old must go through with the pregnancy.

Adolescent pregnancies "account for 23% of the overall burden of disease due to pregnancy and childbirth" and "In Latin America, the risk of maternal death is four times higher among adolescents younger than 16 years than among women in their twenties". Not only do these pregnancies affect the young girls, but their communities as a whole, because the young mothers often drop out of school to care for their newborns; "Studies have shown that delaying adolescent births could significantly lower population growth rates, potentially generating broad economic and social benefits, in addition to improving the health of adolescents" (WHO). By helping to prevent adolescent pregnancies in countries like Paraguay, we are not simply helping young girls, but society as a whole.

Thankfully, the eleven year old Paraguayan girl has been reported to be "in good health and doing well", and because of her mother's support, she may still have a chance at receiving an education. 

For the full article, click here

To read more about the prevalence of child abuse in Latin America, click here
To see what you can do to help, click here.